Thrill of Victory

Thoughts from college football's opening night

After months of having nothing to talk about but what might be, college football fans finally had some action to cheer about as 14 NCAA FBS teams opened their seasons on Thursday evening. Here’s what caught my eye from Thursday’s action:

1. South Carolina won’t scare anybody offensively, but the Gamecocks will be tough to beat.
In a blog earlier this week, I mentioned that the No. 9 Gamecocks wouldn’t likely be a contender to win the national title because its receivers were rather pedestrian. After seeing Carolina throw for a paltry 67 yards on 14 attempts against Vandy, I’ll stand by that statement.
But don’t sleep on USC when it comes to winning the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division. The Gamecocks’ star runner, Marcus Lattimore, looked good in his return from knee surgery, and Carolina’s huge offensive line can certainly open some holes for him. And although quarterback Connor Shaw didn’t look outstanding in the passing game (which wasn’t helped by a shoulder contusion he suffered late in the second quarter), he’s a nightmare to contain as a runner (14 carries, 92 yards).

Defensively, the Gamecocks are as advertised; ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor put a lot of heat on quarterbacks, and the rest of the Gamecock front seven is solid. The defensive backfield is a bit suspect, but when quarterbacks have as little time to throw as Vanderbilt’s Jordan Rodgers did on Thursday, that masks the deficiency greatly.

In this day and age of speed and spread offenses, Carolina’s style of play is a throwback to a few decades earlier. It’s not the most fun style of football to watch, but the Gamecocks are going to beat a lot of people by bludgeoning them in the trenches and making just enough offensive plays to win. That’s exactly what happened in Carolina’s 17-13 victory last night.

2. Vanderbilt should go bowling again.
It was interesting to read message boards of both the Vandy and Carolina fans in the aftermath of last night’s game, because a lot of fans on both sides generally felt that their opponent wasn’t all that impressive and that their team lost because it didn’t play well.
Carolina fans were particularly upset that the perennial cellar-dwelling Commodores gave Carolina such a game. Many of them expected the game to be over by halftime, if not sooner. I’ve got some news for them: last night wasn’t just a case of Carolina not meeting expectations, but the fact that a respectable opponent was on the other side of the ball. Yardage stats can be an indicator of how close a game really was, and at the end of the night, VU had 276 yards to Carolina’s 272.

You can see that the Commodores still have a ways to go to be a title contender in the East. Vandy’s getting better athletes, especially along the line of scrimmage, but you could definitely tell that Carolina had an edge there.

But boy, the Commodores are getting so close. Since the middle of last October, they’ve been one play away from knocking out heavyweights Arkansas, Georgia and Carolina. One of their toughest two games is behind them and Vandy will likely be favored in a half-dozen of its remaining games. I like the odds of some sort of a bowl game for VU.

3. It’s going to be a tough year for MTSU.
My heart sunk a bit for coach Rick Stockstill after I saw the Blue Raiders were upset 27-21 at the hands of the FCS’s McNeese State. As Michigan learned a few years back, some of those better FCS teams can sneak up on you from time to time, but goodness, the Cowboys were coming off a 6-5 season and weren’t even ranked in the FCS coaches’ preseason poll. In fact, there were 20 other teams that didn’t even make the Top 25 that received more votes than McNeese State did.
The sad thing is, it evidently wasn’t a fluke. McNeese State out-gained MTSU 450-343, rushed for 298 yards, and led 24-6 at one point. MTSU was hoping that an easier start to the season would help the Blue Raiders re-gain confidence after last year’s 3-9 season, but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s crazy how fast Stockstill went from being the toast of Murfreesboro three years ago after a 10-3 season to a guy that some Middle fans now want to see gone.

4. There’s no sword-swinging in Pullman – yet.
Some coaches just have that ability to win anywhere; baseball’s Billy Martin, the NFL’s Bill Parcels, and college basketball’s Lon Krueger and Larry Brown immediately come to mind. So does college football’s Mike Leach. Hey, if you can go 84-43 at Texas Tech and compete for Big 12 titles, you can win anywhere… right?
It was no surprise to see BYU beat Leach’s visiting Washington State squad last night, but the 30-6 score was more lopsided than most expected. BYU nearly doubled-up WSU in total yardage (426-224) and were up by the final margin before the end of the third quarter.

Washington State hasn’t had a winning season since 2003, and won a combined nine games the last four seasons. So yeah, it’s a rebuilding job. But four of those wins came last year and most expected Leach, an offensive genius, to have some weapons to work with after the Cougars averaged 422 yards last season. I guess we’ll wait and see.