The long wait came to an end this weekend. As much as we love summer, is there anything worse than those final long weeks that precede the start of the college football season? The closer we get to season openers, the harder it is to be patient. Thankfully we now have a full season to look forward to, one that began with a bang. Two teams from the state of Michigan headlined week 1 as the Spartans hosted Boise State and the Wolverines traveled to Dallas to square off with Alabama. The Spartans survived Boise with an effective but somewhat lackluster effort, ending the Broncos’ string of high-profile opening wins. But down south, the SEC once again asserted its dominance.
Best Win of The Week: Alabama 41, Michigan 14 in Dallas
This Top 10 battle was week 1’s most glamorous matchup…until the two teams took the field. Alabama came in favored by 14, and the question wasn’t so much who would win, but whether or not the Wolverines could cover the spread. After all, the Tide came in as the defending champs, and despite significant losses to the NFL, ‘Bama retained an absurd amount of talent. There were a few notable contrarians who showed some Big Ten love, but this was clearly an uphill battle for Michigan. That challenge wasn’t made any easier by the loss of tailback Fitz Toussaint, who was suspended for off-the-field behavior by head coach Brady Hoke.
Still, there was hope that the reigning Sugar Bowl champs could put up a fight against the SEC’s best. Those hopes were dashed early as Alabama took control and cruised to a lopsided win at Cowboys Stadium.
The Tide made Michigan one-dimensional but shutting down the run, allowing a paltry 69 yards on the ground. That success forced Wolverine QB Denard Robinson to take to the air, an approach that proved equally frustrating to UM fans. Robinson suffered a pair of interceptions and completed fewer than half his pass attempts. Aside from two big plays through the air– a 71-yard toss to Jeremy Gallon just before the half and a 44-yard touchdown completion to Devin Gardner late in the third quarter– Robinson was unable to make much headway.
For their part, the Crimson Tide seemed to be clicking on all cylinders. The defense held Michigan to 269 total yards, grabbed 3 picks, and scored a defensive TD. Kicker Cade Foster gave hope to the ‘Bama fans who suffered through some horrific special teams play in recent seasons, crushing a 51-yard field goal and teaming with Jeremy Shelly to go 2 for 3 overall (Shelly was also 5 for 5 on extra points). QB A.J. McCarron was solid though not spectacular, hitting eight different targets for 199 yards on 11 of 21 passing. Freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon was the player of the game with 137 total yards. Those included 111 rushing yards on just 11 carries. In all, the Alabama ground game amassed 232 yards.
Michigan hurt itself with 8 penalties for 99 yards, but self-inflicted wounds didn’t determine the outcome. Although the Alabama offense did have periods of sluggishness and struggled on third down (3 of 10 for the game), the Tide looked extremely impressive to open the 2012 season.
Honorable Mention: Michigan State 17, Boise State 13 in East Lansing
Okay, it wasn’t pretty. But any win against Boise is a good win.
Worst Win of the Week: Wisconsin 26, Northern Iowa 21
With Ohio State ineligible for the conference title and Penn State on the ropes after the Sandusky scandal, the Big Ten is up for grabs. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Michigan, and Nebraska are the teams most likely to take advantage of the disarray, but the Badgers suffered a rather inauspicious start in week 1.
Facing Northern Iowa, an FCS team from the Missouri Valley Conference, should have afforded Wisconsin the chance to tune up prior to its stiffer tests. Instead, Brett Bielema and company nearly blew a first-half lead and struggled to escape with a victory.
The first half was, predictably, all Wisconsin. Northern Iowa mustered only 62 yards on 15 total plays before halftime, and though the Badgers’ offense struggled a bit it still headed to lockerroom up 13-0. A grinding gameplan kept the ball on the ground as Wisconsin chewed up the clock en route to 205 first half yards. By all appearances the game was on its way to being the lopsided affair one might have expected.
The third quarter had much the same feel; after forcing a 3 and out, Wisconsin drove the ball 60 yards for a touchdown that put the lead at 19-0. The teams then exchanged failed drives before Northern Iowa finally got on the board with a TD of it own, but the Badgers answered immediately to push the advantage to 26-7 early in the fourth quarter.
From there, the Panthers took control.
Aside from one big play– a 53 yard touchdown strike from Danny O’Brien to Jared Abbrederis– the final frame belonged to UNI. In the closing minutes, Northern Iowa outgained the mighty Badgers 170 yards to 10, closing the gap to 26-21. With a chance to take the lead, quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen enginnered a final drive, only to see the Badgers come up with a critical fourth down stop that preserved a narrow victory. With the way the fourth quarter was going, Wisconsin was extremely fortunate to stop the conversion.
Heisman hopeful Montee Ball was the hero of the day, finishing with 120 yards and a score. However, his 3.8 yards per carry average will have to improve if Wisconsin expects to get to a BCS bowl. O’Brien, a former Maryland Terp, had a decent debut, connecting on 19 of 23 attempts for 219 yards and a pair of scores. The scare here can’t be pinned on Russell Wilson’s absence. This near-choke was truly a team effort as the offense dried up and the defense fell asleep late in the game.
(Dis)Honorable Mention: Stanford 20, San Jose State 17 in Palo Alto
Is this what Stanford will look like without Andrew Luck? It wasn’t a good start to the 2012 season for the new look Cardinal.
Upset of the Week: Youngstown State 31, Pittsburgh 17 in Pittsburgh
If Paul Chryst could have scripted a first chapter to his coaching career at Pitt, it would have been exactly the opposite of what happened on Saturday. At the prominent venue of Heinz Field, with the home crowd and D-1 pedigree in full effect, the Panthers still couldn’t stop the mighty Penguins from rolling to a double-digit victory. No matter how many times we see an FCS (formerly Division 1-AA) team topple an FBS squad, it’s always a bit of a shock. And while Pitt didn’t enter the 2012 season as a powerhouse, it was certainly expected to handle its business in this home opener.
Instead, Youngstown St. dictated the pace of the game from the start, taking early leads of 7-0 and 14-7 before a late Pitt field goal sent the teams to halftime at 14-10. Surely the break would allow Chryst to rally his troops. Pitt would regain its form and brush away this insignificant challenge. Right?
Youngstown St. kept the pressure on, opening the second half with a 6-play, 71-yard drive culminating in a trick play 23-yard touchdown pass from tailback Jermaine Cook to wideout Will Shaw. On fourth and 1 no less. From there, it was just a matter of the Penguins’ ground game salting away the victory.
YSU dominated the game. It won the turnover battle with a +2 margin, forcing a pair of Pitt fumbles. The time of possession wasn’t even close as the underdog held the ball for more than 35 minutes of play. The Penguins outgained Pitt overall, 381 yards to 369, and gashed the Panther defense for 204 rushing yards. Most impressively, YSU never trailed at any point.
In Pitt’s defense, Chryst did suspend 6 players prior to the game for “disciplinary reasons”. Perhaps the team was a just a bit shorthanded. Regardless, the Panthers have some soul-searching to do before week 2’s Big East opener at Cincinnati.
Honorable Mention: Ohio 24, Penn State 14 in Happy Valley
Penn State has a lot going on this season, so we won’t abuse them here. But this was a big road win for the MAC’s Bobcats.
Blowout of the Week: Oklahoma State 84, Savannah State 0 in Stillwater
Watching a power program beat up on an FCS opponent isn’t all that useful or impressive. Still, it’s hard not to acknowledge an 84-point explosion. OSU outgained the overmatched Tigers 682 yards to 139. Ouch.
AND THE GAME BALLS GO TO…
Strobl: Tyler Tettleton, QB- Ohio
This game featured a MAC team rolling into one of the most intimidating venues in college football, taking on a Nittany Lions squad that had everything to prove in its 2012 opener. Say what you will about the weakened PSU program; playing for a new coach and the need to restore some faith in Nittany Lion football should have provided ample motivation. However, the result was a monster day for Ohio’s Tettleton. The junior, whose father Mickey was a well-known MLBer, finished 31 of 41 passing for 324 yards and a pair of scores as the Bobcats spoiled the start of the Bill O’Brien era.
John Mitchell: Le’Veon Bell, RB- Michigan State
If it wasn’t for Bell, Michigan State would be 0-1. Instead, despite a lackluster performance, Sparty defeated Boise State 17-13. To say that Bell shouldered the load for Michigan State would be an understatement. Bell got 50 touches against the Broncos, including 44 rushes for 210 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Bell’s second rushing touchdown of the game game in the fourth quarter in what turned out to be the game winner.
Zach Bigalke: Marcus Mariota, QB- Oregon
There were plenty of impressive performances on opening weekend, but a true freshman earns my game ball this week. The Ducks were preseason contenders thanks to their running attack and improving defense. With Darron Thomas gone, quarterback was the biggest question mark for Oregon. Mariota assuaged those questions with an accurate, well-managed 18-of-22 performance for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns in less than 25 minutes of play. If Mariota continues at this rate, the Ducks will be in contention all season.