Beyond the headlines: Notes after Kickoff Week

ByIvan Maisel ESPN logo
Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Greatest Opening Weekend Ever provided a valuable lesson in how we stereotype programs instead of focusing on personnel. Houston beat Florida State in a New Year's Six Bowl last postseason, while Oklahoma lost a semifinal to Clemson by three touchdowns. And Houston was a 10-point underdog versus OU on Saturday? LSU struggled on offense in the second half of last season. The Tigers returned eight offensive starters. And those same players struggled on offense against Wisconsin.

A team defines its jersey. It's not the other way around.

1. Alabama coach Nick Saban twice mentioned his relief that his defense held USC to 64 rushing yards without needing safeties for run support. His explanation taught a lesson in the value of defensive line depth. "Once their gas tank is out, it's out," Saban said. "The little guys out there ... can run 100 yards and be tanked on the sidelines and two minutes later come back up and say, 'Coach, I'm ready to go,' and run just as fast as they were before. But when the big guys run out of gas, that tank is not getting refilled until tomorrow."

2. If you saw the highlights Saturday, you saw South Alabama coach Joey Jones leading his team onto the field in celebration after a Mississippi State field goal failed and the Jaguars won 21-20, their first victory over an SEC team. Unfortunately, the game wasn't over. Jones didn't give himself any up-downs for the mental error, but he said Sunday: "I was in a meeting with the team. I said, 'We got eight penalties for 57 yards. Y'all got seven for 42. I'll take the other one. That was my fault.'" He laughed as he described it: "I'm yelling at them to get off the field. They followed me out there."

3. They could teach philosophy classes about this one: If your punt returner fields the ball on your own 3-yard-line, spins out of two tackles and goes 97 yards for a touchdown (called back for an illegal block), how do you grade him? Stanford special-teams coach Pete Alamar split the difference on Christian McCaffrey: a minus on assignment and execution, a plus on effort. "You think, 'This is not going to be good,'" Alamar said. "And he is special. Still, I yelled: 'No! No! No! Yes! Yes! Yes!'" Alamar positioned McCaffrey on the 10 and gave him two steps leeway. McCaffrey took four steps back to field the punt. "When he came off the field, we talked about it," Alamar said. "He knew."

4. It comes as no surprise that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald handled a soul-crushing loss with class. The Wildcats fell to Western Michigan 22-21 after quarterback Clayton Thorson fumbled at the Broncos' goal line in the final minutes. "You band together. You stick together. 'Walk' used to say it all the time: 'Some people point fingers, others point thumbs,'" Fitzgerald said, "Walk" being his mentor and predecessor, the late Randy Walker. "We need to have a bunch of guys be thumb-pointers and look inward and look at how we can coach better and how we can play better." Northwestern went 5-0 in one-play games last year.

5. From the This May Not Mean Anything But Department: USC sold out its allotment of 18,000 seats at Cowboys AT&T Stadium and bought more on the secondary market. UCLA returned a couple of hundred seats from its allotment of 4,000 at Texas A&M. The discrepancy could have been a result of the lure of the Crimson Tide and the Trojans resuming their rivalry after 31 years, while the Bruins and the Aggies have no relationship. Or it could be that football tradition at USC is deeper and richer than it is at UCLA.

6. Three teams with double-digit losing streaks ended them Saturday against FCS opponents. Hey, it's all in scheduling. Kansas coach David Beaty cried when his players presented him with a game ball after a 55-6 defeat of Rhode Island, which ended the Jayhawks' 15-game slide. UCF, also winless last season, won its first game under coach Scott Frost by shutting out South Carolina State 38-0. And Eastern Michigan stopped a 10-game slide by beating Mississippi Valley State 61-14. The longest losing streak in the FBS now? Charlotte at 11 games. The 49ers play FCS foe Elon on Saturday.

7. And let's not forget Louisiana-Monroe, which defeated FCS Southern 38-21. You may not care about that if you're not a Warhawk, but LSU, Tulane, Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette all lost on Saturday. Louisiana, as every Southern football coach knows, has the most high school football talent per capita in the country. When ULM is all that stands between the state's FBS schools and an offer, you've got a football problem. Perhaps all the heartache in Baton Rouge this year will provide some perspective. I doubt it.

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