For three quarters, it was a perfect night. The game equaled the hype, billed by the organizers of the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic as the “G.O.A.T.,” as in the greatest opener of all time.
It was a defensive struggle, physical and featuring big hitting and little offense. There was little separation between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State on Saturday night in Atlanta, and the potential national championship game preview actually felt like one.
Then, as Alabama took command, Deondre Francois went down, clutching his left knee. Nothing else mattered, and a day later, it got significantly worse.
Now that Francois’ season is over, everything seems insignificant about the blockbuster opener — the first matchup of teams ranked amonfg the top three on opening weekend since the Associated Press began ranking teams before the 1950 season.
The dynamic sophomore quarterback suffered a season-ending patella tendon injury in the fourth quarter of the 24-7 loss when he was sacked from behind by Ronnie Harrison, the Tallahassee Democrat reported Sunday night.
It may end the Seminoles’ College Football Playoff hopes before they could even begin, and as a result open up the ACC.
Suddenly, retooling Clemson, which looked impressive in a 56-3 blowout of Kent State, may have the inside track to win its third straight ACC Atlantic crown. Eighteenth-ranked Miami and No. 21 Virginia in the ACC Coastal could be factors as well.
There is no super team in the ACC now.
True freshman James Blackman will be pressed into duty, a four-star dual-threat quarterback, according to Rivals.com, who arrived on campus in the summer and beat out junior J.J. Cosentino for the backup job.
“[Blackman’s] a very intelligent guy who shows a lot of poise, presence and command,” Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher told reporters this summer. “He can throw the football and move around, too.”
But unlike Francois a year ago, he doesn’t have a superstar running back like Dalvin Cook to rely upon. The Seminoles were counting on Francois to carry the offense, until its young playmakers, like freshman running back Cam Akers and sophomore receiver Keith Gavin, found their footing.
Instead, it will be the rail-thin 6-foot-5, 185-pound Blackman’s team behind a leaky offensive line. The Florida native will get an opportunity to ease into the job Saturday, when Florida State hosts Louisiana-Monroe, before an immediate challenge against Miami.
Florida State shouldn’t be discounted yet. Clearly, Blackman has plenty of raw ability, and look for the Seminoles to change their offensive philosophy, rely more on Akers and its loaded defense that limited Alabama to 269 total yards.
But the national landscape of college football has changed significantly. There is one less elite team. There are no winners from a night that felt like for so long it would feature nothing but them.
Wimbush has Irish’s eyes smiling
It was one game, against an opponent with a brand new head coach and seven new defensive starters. Take all that into account. Take the performance with several grains of salt. But it was Brandon Wimbush’s first game, too, his first start since high school, way back in December 2014. And Notre Dame’s redshirt sophomore quarterback sure looked every bit as advertised as the key to the Irish bouncing back this year. He completed 17-of-30 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 107 yards and a score in a 49-16 blasting of Temple, the defending AAC champion. He was poised and composed. He made big plays with his arm and his feet.
In time, starting Saturday against SEC East power Georgia, we’ll know much more about Wimbush. But based on first impressions, the kid from Teaneck, N.J. and St. Peter’s Prep looks up to the job.
Rebuilding Baylor bearing unfair burden
There was a strange phenomenon circulating on Twitter on Saturday night, as Baylor struggled with, and eventually lost to Liberty 48-45. It was unbridled glee, joy in the Bears losing to a school called Liberty. Like the victory in some way helped the victims of all those alleged sexual assaults, like the players who committed those acts were still playing, the coaches and administrators who were neglectful still at the Big 12 school.
But they’re not.
There is a new president in Linda Livingstone, a new athletic director in Mack Rhoades, a new head coach in Matt Rhule, and new players. In fact, Liberty’s athletic director is Ian McCaw, who held the same post at Baylor during the Briles era before resigning in May 2016.
One loss doesn’t change what happened, make it any less worse for anyone involved. The current players and coaches shouldn’t have to pay, in the form of public opinion, for what preceded them. The school is trying to start anew. Let it try to do so in peace.
1. Alabama (1-0)
Only Alabama could lose six starters on defense, and dominate in its season opener against a powerhouse like Florida State, limiting the Seminoles to 65 total yards in the second half.
2. Ohio State (1-0)
The concern about offensive playmakers seems silly now, after running back J.K. Dobbins broke Maurice Clarrett’s freshman record in his debut with 181 rushing yards, and junior wideout Parris Campbell caught six passes for 136 yards and a touchdown.
3. Penn State (1-0)
Wake us up in late October, when Penn State meets Michigan and Ohio State in back-to-back weeks. Until then, it should be a stream of blowouts like Saturday’s 52-0 shellacking of Akron.
4. Clemson (1-0)
Next weekend’s clash with Auburn should be a better barometer for new-look Clemson and junior quarterback Kelly Bryant than the 56-3 exhibition-like decimation of Kent State.
5. Florida State (0-1)
The reported season-ending left knee injury to quarterback Deondre Francois is crushing. The sophomore was expected to carry an offense that lost its leading rusher (Dalvin Cook) and receiver (Travis Rudolph) to the NFL, and without him, true freshman James Blackman will be asked to step in.
6. USC (1-0)
Fortunately for USC, the season opener was against an overwhelmed opponent, because a quality foe would have beaten the Trojans — turnover prone and woeful defensively in a win over Western Michigan — on Saturday.
7. Washington (1-0)
Is Washington worse or is Rutgers that much better? Beaten up at the line of scrimmage, the Huskies’ shaky 30-14 win in Piscataway was far from impressive.
8. Michigan (1-0)
Those who thought the Wolverines were overrated entering the season because they lost 18 starters forgot coach Jim Harbaugh, whose team beat Florida 33-17, didn’t leave and neither did the elite recruiting classes he has stockpiled in Ann Arbor.
9. LSU (1-0)
The ground attack punished (296 yards, three touchdowns), the defense dominated (97 yards allowed), and LSU made BYU look like an FCS opponent in a 27-0 trouncing.
10. Wisconsin (1-0)
An upset alert became a laughing matter, as Wisconsin scored touchdowns on six of its last seven drives to hammer Utah State, 59-10.
Heisman Trophy Watch (in alphabetical order)
RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
The junior certainly looked like the best running back in the country, running for 172 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries in Penn State’s rout of Akron.
QB Sam Darnold, USC
A chic Heisman pick, Darnold surprisingly struggled against Western Michigan, picked off twice and failing to get into the end zone through the air in a tougher-than-expected 49-31 victory.
QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Step one in his pursuit of repeating as the Heisman winner got off to a strong start, as Jackson threw for 378 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for 107 more yards, making sure Louisville avoided an upset at Purdue.
S Derwin James, Florida State
Impressive in defeat, James was all over the field, recording six tackles and a half of a sack against a premier opponent, showing he’s healthy after missing all but two games last year with a knee injury.
QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
There were reasons for all the preseason buzz, and Rudolph put it on display in a blowout of Tulsa, completing 20-of-24 passes for 303 yards, three touchdowns and a rushing score.