It’s almost impossible to predict what will happen during the first week of a college football season because of all the changes teams go through from one year to the next.
But there’s thing that’s almost inevitable the moment those opening games are played.
Even with 11 more games still on the schedule, it’s hard for fans of teams that played well not to be at least a little giddy while those of teams that lost or played poorly are understandably down in the dumps.
There was plenty of both extremes to go around here in North Carolina last weekend. The question is, what did we really learn from the highest profile college football teams in our state?
Here are a few unemotional answers before heading to Week 2:
The Wolfpack won Saturday, beating James Madison on a sweltering hot afternoon at Carter-Finley Stadium.
But just barely.
While there are those already invoking the “Law of the Wolf” following a 24-13 victory that wasn’t secured until the final minute, there was plenty about which to be encouraged over State’s performance moving forward.
For those uninitiated, the “Law of the Wolf “ suggests that when teams representing State are expected to do the most, they end up accomplishing the least. And vice versa.
In this case, coach Dave Doeren’s team actually did more to live up to its preseason hype than not despite having to hang on for dear life against an FCS opponent. Understand that James Madison was no cupcake opener. The Dukes are a team that have played for the FCS national championship in each of the past two seasons and have lost just twice in 28 games over that stretch.
A lesser team would have lost that game Saturday, but State didn’t. Its rebuilt defense held up, its veteran quarterback got the ball to his best playmakers and while the ground game didn’t exactly distinguish itself, Reggie Gallaspy was able to pound the ball into the end zone for the clinching touchdown when his team needed it.
So relax, the Wolfpack will be fine.
The Tar Heels needed a strong opener at Cal to help wash away the stench of last year’s 3-9 stinker and gain momentum for a difficult four-game stretch in which several key players are suspended.
Instead, they got a 24-17 loss that was as discouraging as it could possibly be through three quarters. At least offensively.
And yet despite four interceptions by quarterback Nathan Elliott, including a pick six, a defense that has been the team’s weak link throughout coach Larry Fedora’s tenure rose to the occasion and put forth an encouraging performance.
In the past, UNC would have been down by an insurmountable margin at halftime because of the turnovers. This time it trailed only 17-0, allowing the offense to make things interesting with a pair of late touchdowns while perhaps creating some positive momentum upon which the team can build as the season progresses.
The Blue Devils gave up 197 yards through the air to a team that doesn’t throw the ball, but don’t worry about their pass defense. They did such a good job against Army’s triple-option offense that the Black Knights’ only hope was to throw the ball over the top of defensive backs cheating up to stop the run.
Offensively, Duke did what it was expected to do, with quarterback Daniel Jones going 13 of 17 for 197 yards and a touchdown. The Blue Devils also outrushed Army 184-168 while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Senior walk-on Collin Wareham even went 2 for 2 on field goals in his first college action.
There were a lot of positives to be taken from the game, the most important of which might be that running back Brittain Brown’s knee injury isn’t serious. But a lot more will be known about the team after this week’s trip to Northwestern.
The Deacons struggled to beat Tulane on Thursday, having to go to overtime to do it. That suggests they might have trouble once they get to the meat of their schedule, starting in two weeks against Atlantic Division rival Boston College.
But winning on the road is never easy, especially with a true freshman quarterback. And Sam Hartman was outstanding once he got his feet on the ground late in the first half. With the exception of two big plays, so was the defense. Especially in overtime.
This is a team with plenty of room to grow. If Thursday’s 23-17 win is an indication, the ceiling is still high.
The knee-jerk reaction after the Pirates’ 28-23 loss to NC A&T is that it was the death knell to Scottie Montgomery’s tenure as coach and the precursor to another 3-9 season or worse. Both may end up happening, but it should also be noted that despite the result, the Pirates didn’t play that poorly in the weather-delayed game.
Most of ECU’s problems are fixable and self-inflicted — especially a pair of turnovers inside the opponent’s 5-yard line, including a 100-yard interception return. There was also some horrible clock management at the end of the game that prevented the Pirates from having a realistic shot at the winning touchdown.
But new coordinator David Blackwell’s defense was much improved over the one that ranked last in the nation a year ago, and first-time starting quarterback Reid Herring moved the team well until it got to the red zone. Though it doesn’t take the sting off losing to an FCS team for the second straight opening day, Sunday’s performance wasn’t nearly as bad as it seemed.
The Mountaineers came 42 seconds away from enhancing their reputation as college football’s ultimate giant killer. But even in a 45-38 overtime loss at Penn State, coach Scott Satterfield’s squad served notice that it is again the team to beat in the Sun Belt Conference.
The most satisfying aspect of the game was the performance of quarterback Zac Thomas, who in his first start replacing three-year starter Taylor Lamb completed 25 of 38 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns against a team ranked among the nation’s top 10.
Stop the presses. The 49ers won a game. That’s saying something, since they won only once all last season. But before Charlotte signs coach Brad Lambert to a long-term extension, consider that the team it beat 34-10 — Fordham — was a sub-.500 team last season in the nonscholarship FCS Patriot League. A much better read on the 2018 49ers will come this weekend, when they play App State.
The Aggies are as good as advertised and perhaps even better. Their win at ECU was their 15th straight overall and third in as many “guarantee” games against FBS opponents. They’re deep, they’re talented, their well-coached and they know how to win. And why anyone still throws at pick-six specialist Mac McCain is a mystery.
Interim coach Granville Eastman’s bid to win the job on a permanent basis got off to a shaky start with a 40-24 loss to Prairie View A&M in Atlanta on Sunday. It wasn’t pretty, but it wasn’t completely unexpected considering the way Prairie View’s offense performed a week earlier while nearly upsetting FBS opponent Rice and the youth of Central’s defensive front.
While the performance does raise concerns, Eastman is the Eagles’ former defensive coordinator, so the potential for growth as the season goes along is there.
Remember, it’s only one game.