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2019 College Football Reaction & Analysis: Week One

Derrick Brown, Auburn
Even though Week 0 brought us the official start of the 2019 college football season, things really didn't get rolling until this past Thursday, leading a five-night college football premiere. Although Week 1 only had one ranked matchup, Auburn vs. Oregon, it still had a number of national implications. I decided to break down what I thought to be the most consequential moments of the first football weekend of the year, along with what we can look forward to going in the near future.

Florida State & Tennessee's Rough Starts: No Florida State or Tennessee fan wants to relive this past Saturday, when both proud programs suffered brutal losses to a pair of Group of Five schools. The Seminoles opened up the game with 31 first half points before posting a goose egg in the second, allowing Boise State to mount a thrilling late comeback. Although Boise is a respectable foe, the loss dropped head coach Willie Taggart to 5-8 in Tallahassee without much promise for an improved 2019. Tennessee got it even more embarrassing, with a loss to Sun Belt opponent Georgia State, who went 2-10 in 2018. Not only was it a stunning upset it was especially disheartening for the Vols to see them beat soundly along the trenches. Despite being smaller and slower than the Volunteers, Georgia State pounded them for the better part of sixty minutes. It's hard to see Tennessee finding a way to fix that in the midst of a brutal SEC East slate of games. Another second-year head coach much like Taggart, Jeremy Pruitt felt his seat get quite a bit hotter after this one.

The SEC's Disappointing Opener: Beyond watching just Tennessee get shocked, the SEC struggled in other parts of the country as well. Ole Miss looked completely overmatched by Memphis on the road and managed just ten points in a losing effort. Missouri was also upset, falling on the road to Wyoming. Even the teams that did win on Saturday displayed some serious question marks. Arkansas still is going to be an SEC West bottom feeder, Mississippi State does have some major issues to address on their defense, and Kentucky could be in for an expected rebuild. For a conference that clearly prides itself on being bigger and better than everywhere else, the SEC did not live up to it this weekend. LSU's matchup in primetime with Texas on Saturday will be huge for restoring some of the conference's reputation.

What To Think of Auburn & Oregon: The big game on Saturday was undoubtedly between the Pac-12 favorite Oregon Ducks and the sneaky Auburn Tigers. It was an entertaining game that really seemed to capture the energy of the first Saturday, ending with a surprise twist. Auburn and true freshman QB Bo Nix had a marvelous late comeback victory, possibly quashing Oregon's Playoff hopes before they ever really got started. For Auburn, this seemed to be an important momentum builder and a resume boost, but not a groundbreaking victory. Nix was okay, not good but not bad, in his first collegiate start but showed he will have his limits. The defense played clutch down the stretch, but its struggles in the first half showed there is ground to cover there. I was actually more impressed by the Ducks, who really seemed to come out with the confidence and energy. They asserted themselves as a clear Pac-12 favorite, with the talent up and down their roster to compete sixty minutes with anyone.

Did the Big Ten West Picture Get Any Clearer?: The Big Ten West enters 2019 as college football's most wacky and intriguing division. There probably isn't a Playoff team in it, but it might be the only division in FBS where everybody seems like a pretty realistic contender (with the possible exception of Illinois). If we wanted more clarity, Week One did not provide that, although there are some important things to touch on. Purdue was absolutely stunned by Nevada on the road, making it very possible they could go winless in the non-conference, making bowl eligibility a likely fantasy. Minnesota looked sluggish against South Dakota State, but came out with a close win and gave the fans some excitement with the play of budding sophomore Rashod Bateman. Meanwhile,  their arch-rival Wisconsin looked the opposite, crushing South Florida 49-0 in Tampa. If the Badgers continue to move the ball the way they did against USF, they seem to be the favorite in the division going forward.

Not a Good Day For Retreads: Kevin Sumlin and Charlie Strong are two examples of coaches who struggled at big-name jobs but seemed to be landing in good spots in their new locations, Strong at South Florida and Sumlin at Arizona. Yet, lackluster performances by their teams in their openers seem to be putting both in a precarious spot. Strong won ten games to open his USF stint, but has gone just .500 over the next 14. The fact that he has now lost seven in a row after starting 2018 7-0 has left things very dark in Tampa, at a school that has shown they can win. Sumlin, on the other hand, never really got off to a hot start with Arizona. The Wildcats looked awfully dysfunctional for much of a 5-7 2018 and again looked shaky in a loss to Hawaii. Defense looks like it is once again dooming Sumlin, as the Wildcats couldn't contain their Group of Five foe, allowing 45 points.

UCF Still the Group of Five Team To Beat: While a number of Group of Five teams won big openers (looking at you Cincinnati, Boise, Wyoming, Georgia State), UCF still appears to be the favorite to be the GO5 representative in the New Year's Six. Even breaking in transfer Brandon Wimbush at quarterback, the Knights looked to be in midseason form, dropping 62 in their victory over Florida A&M, including 48 in the first half. Sure, Florida A&M isn't exactly a super strong opening opponent, but it still has to be reassuring for UCF to watch Wimbush look so comfortable running their offense and making plays. The defense, much maligned a year ago, was also terrific, holding FAMU to just 81 total yards. Improved defensive play will be crucial in holding off the other extremely dangerous teams in the AAC, namely Memphis, Houston and Cincy.

Worth Watching: It didn't get as much eyeballs as other Week One performances, but the way Michigan State's defense played on their Friday opener was historical. Their opponent, Tulsa, managed just 80 yards over the course of four quarters, finding no gaps in a suffocating Spartans' unit. Tulsa struggled to move the ball so much, they recorded -73 rushing yards, something not seen since Mississippi State held Florida to -78 two decades ago. While their offense will still need to take steps forward, MSU's defense looked so good its hard to imagine them not contending in the Big Ten East. They are deep, experienced and well-rounded, and bound to keep up with the alphas in the division, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

Heisman Watch: Picking the Heisman after just one weekend of college football is more confirmation bias than anything else, but I decided to take a shot at a Top 5 anyways. Here is where things stand incredibly early:
1. Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma
2. Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
3. Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
4. Jonathan Taylor, RB, Wisconsin
5. Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas

What I'm Watching Next Week:

LSU-Texas (6:30 PM CT, ABC): It doesn't get much better than two power programs battling it out in the non-conference. LSU enters this one as the slight favorite over Texas, but the Longhorns have proven they can beat SEC heavyweights, overpowering UGA in last winter's Sugar Bowl. Both offenses looked elite in the first week, but LSU's overpowering defense seems to give them the edge.
Army-Michigan (11 AM CT, FOX): How does Don Brown and the Michigan defense handle the triple-option? Army was a preseason darling (ranked 20 in my CFB Preview) but didn't looked great in their opener against Rice. Michigan is a whole different animal, although crafty QB Kelvin Hopkins Jr. could at least keep things interesting.
Clemson-Texas A&M (2:30 PM, ABC): Prior to the LSU-Texas duel, Clemson and A&M give us quite the primer. A&M came within a field goal of upsetting the eventual National Champs last fall, but hope to finish the job in 2019. The Aggies looked terrific in an opening victory over Texas State, while Clemson will hope for improved play from Heisman candidate Trevor Lawrence, who was a little underwhelming in the first week.
Miami-UNC (7 PM CT, ACC Network): Mack Brown's first game back at North Carolina was a surprising success, as the Tar Heels were able to overcome South Carolina in a 24-20 upset. How do they follow that up against one of the Coastal Division favorites? The Hurricanes are hoping to play more polished after a bye this past Saturday, and for improved health for a beat-up secondary.

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