Column: College football’s opening weekend raises eyebrows

Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston
Coach Jimbo Fisher, quarterback Jameis Winston and top-ranked Florida State went down to the wire against unranked Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and other teams before pulling out victories this season.
(Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

Getting a line on opening weekend was not easy.

Selection committee members, as you read this, are rearranging all the postseason Post-it notes on their refrigerators.

Texas A&M moved up near the freezer compartment, replacing down-by-carrots-now South Carolina.

Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, also moonlighting as a committee member, was practicing the act of recusing himself from his team’s playoff discussions after the Badgers jumped ahead, 24-7, on Louisiana State.


He may not have that problem now.

Nobody had a worse time with getting a line, though, than the people who set the betting odds in Las Vegas.

Most weeks you say, “How do they get it right so often?”

This week you said, “Better hold off on that casino expansion.”


The bookmakers seemed as discombobulated as Austin Peay looked against Memphis (63-0).

The bookies had Colorado by three over Colorado State, Houston by 11 over Texas San Antonio and Northwestern by 11 at home against California.

All three favorites whiffed in defeat.

Northwestern players, who voted this summer on whether to unionize, didn’t look very together.

Las Vegas may have read the story about Hawaii possibly dropping football before it installed Washington as a 17-point favorite on the islands.

Washington actually sweated out a 17-16 win in what could have been Chris Petersen’s first and last game as Huskies coach.

UCLA was a blackjack-point favorite over Virginia, but 21 turned out to be only the number of points the defense produced. UCLA won by eight.

Alabama was supposed to roll West Virginia by 26 or so points, but won by only 10.


It had to be considered a moral victory for the Mountaineers, coming off a 4-8 season.

“We’re not interested in moral victories,” West Virginia Coach Dana Holgorsen said.

West Virginia at least deserved a pat on the back for hanging tough against a top-five team.

“We don’t want pats on the back,” Holgorsen said.

Well, anyway, best of luck next week against Towson.

Oklahoma State, the oddsmakers determined, stood little chance against Florida State in Arlington, Texas. The Cowboys were 19-point underdogs against the defending national champions.

Florida State won by … six.

Oklahoma State stood every chance to win until Florida State’s P.J. Williams’ jarring tackle coaxed a fumble from quarterback J.W. Walsh.


It was a nearly calamitous weekend, more about reassessment than any fundamental overturning.

The biggest stunner was Texas A&M’s total dissection, in Columbia, of top-10 (but not anymore) South Carolina.

Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill wilted under the burden of replacing Johnny Manziel by passing for only a school-record 511 yards in a 52-28 blowout.

Manziel, for what it’s worth, lost his debut against Florida.

What a staggering jolt it was to see South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier, the man who revolutionized the Southeastern Conference with his passing game while at Florida, have it all thrown back in his face.

The weekend raised more eyebrows, for now, than real concerns.

Top-ranked Florida State showed it might not be invincible in struggling to hold off the pop-gun Cowboys of Stillwater.

“I do think they felt the pressure of being No.1, I do,” Seminoles Coach Jimbo Fisher said after the game. “Now I think we can relax and go play football.”

There was still plenty of eyeball evidence to suggest Florida State might make a return trip to Texas for the Jan. 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium.

When Georgia trailed Clemson, 21-14, it appeared a termite tent might have to be thrown over the SEC East. Vanderbilt had already fallen to Temple, South Carolina looked opening-game awful and Florida couldn’t even handle Idaho in Gainesville (OK, technically, the game was suspended by lightning).

Georgia saved division honor by rallying to beat Clemson, with tailback Todd Gurley setting a school-record 293 total yards.

The comeback of the weekend belonged to LSU, which trailed by 17 in the third quarter before rallying to a 28-24 win.

When Les Miles said last month, “I like us. I like us in every game,” he must have known something we didn’t know at halftime.

The coach known as “The Hat” pulled another trick out of it. Miles’ fake-punt call sparked a comeback that crushed what could have been a signature win for the Big Ten. Had Wisconsin won, the Badgers might have coasted unscathed to the conference title game (schedule check: Wisconsin misses Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State this year).

The long playoff slog now pushes into … early September.

Don’t let it dispirit you that more than half of the 128 FBS schools have already effectively been eliminated from playoff contention.

Only a chosen few losers-so-far have the wherewithal to rebound: Clemson, South Carolina and maybe Wisconsin?

Wake Forest, which lost to Louisiana Monroe, is probably out.

More impressive numbers to mull: Steve Sarkisian and Lane Kiffin, USC’s former tag-team set of offensive coordinators, masterminded play sheets that produced 85 points and 1,239 total yards. Sarkisian exhausted all options (and players) in his USC debut, while Kiffin seemed mostly on point in his first game as Alabama’s offense coordinator.

USC set a Pac-12 Conference record with 105 plays in its win over Fresno State, an extension of last year’s Las Vegas Bowl that ended with a final score of 97-33.

The more impressive number, though, belonged to Dr. John Risher, who charts plays for Virginia football’s sports information department.

Risher, who turned 104 in May, took his usual spot in Virginia’s press box for Saturday’s UCLA game.

Risher attended his first Virginia game in 1920 and was on the field, as a Cavaliers player, when Scott Stadium opened in 1931.

Risher is still spry for his age and, at times Saturday, appeared to be moving better than UCLA’s offense.

Go beyond the scoreboard

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