Here we go! The 2018 season kicked off in earnest with a day full of football, joy, sadness, and indigestion. Here are the highs and lows and general pontifications:
Fine and King Shine
If you're looking for stars, look no further than Mason Fine and D'Eriq King. Fine, the junior quarterback at North Texas completed 40 of 50 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns as the Mean Green kicked the hell out of SMU in one of the more shocking results in college football.
King, the junior from Manvel harnassed the powers of the Houston offense to run away from a game Rice team in the second half. He ended his day 17 of 24 for 320 yards and three touchdowns. He added another score on the ground.
If you watched these two play last year, you know that these types of performances should be the norm in 2018.
Not Again Tom Herman, Not Again
Texas endured a fast start by Maryland, a weather delay, and generally sloppy play but couldn't overcome two late interceptions by Sam Ehlinger. Texas started slow and hit a stride in the second half, even leading into the fourth quarter, but Maryland salted the game away with those late picks and ten unanswered to win 34-29.
On a day when Oklahoma dismantled, absolutely and positively, Florida Atlantic, the Longhorns start couldn't have felt good for burnt orange fans. Texas didn't use Shane Buechele in the loss, so apparently, the season is on Ehlinger, but if he throws picks in critical situations like he did today, Herman will have to look down his bench.
Todd Orlando's defense took a step back from how they finished last season. The formula is pretty well established for Orlando and Herman, if they cause turnovers, they typically win, if not and if the rushing attack continues to stagnate, they don't.
Everything Texas wants is still out in front of them, but today raises a lot of questions.
Hope For Rice
The Owls skimmed by Prairie View on a last-second field goal by Jack Fox last week. This week the Rice gave Houston all the Coogs could handle until heat, speed, and depth issues took over in the fourth quarter. Shawn Stankavage, in particular, looked as useful as a Rice quarterback has looked in several years, rebounding from a less than stellar week zero performance.
You can see what the Owls want their defense to look like, they may not have the horses to get there, but Rice played with great effort today. Dylan Silcox continues to be anywhere and everywhere, and the front four rotation played well.
Aaron Cephus and Austin Trammell both look like reliable assets on the outside. A 45-27 loss isn't what anyone at Rice wants to see, but today was incredibly positive for Mike Bloomgren's rebuild.
A Near Total Disaster
Kliff Kingsbury's 2018 squad was supposed to be balanced and improved. If Saturday is any indication, Tech is in for a long year. Starting quarterback McLane Carter went out with a severe ankle injury, Alan Bowman came in and played decently, but Tech never threatened Ole Miss in the 47-27 loss.
Scottie Phillips torched Tech's defense for 204 yards on just sixteen carries and quarterback Jordan Ta'amu made himself at home, picking apart the Red Raider secondary. Ole Miss scored on plays of 58, 94, 39, 64, and 34. Ole Miss obliterated Tech with shock plays. Kingsbury, right or wrong, is now clearly on a hotter seat than he was Friday.
Texas State combined sloppy quarterback play with penalties to hand Rutgers a relatively easy 35-7 victory. The Scarlet Knights outgained the Bobcats 423 to 169 and used fifteen penalties and three turnovers to their advantage.
The good news? Texas State's defense showed promise. The 'Cats intercepted three passes, taking one back for a pick-six. The defensive unit was on the field too long, Rutgers held the ball for nearly 36 minutes. Willie Jones III couldn't get the offense moving and gave way to true freshman Tyler Vitt in the fourth.
Meanwhile, in Tempe, UTSA is a new footnote on Herm Edwards coaching career. The Roadrunners lost 49-7 to Edwards' Sun Devils. If it's possible, the game wasn't that close. Arizona State All-American receiver N'Keal Harry put on a clinic and the Sun Devil defense pummeled UTSA's run game, holding the Roadrunners to three yards on 33 attempts.
Harry had six catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns including a sideline to sideline job that gave every Roadrunner defender a front row seat to his skill and athletic ability.
The good news is Cordale Grundy played decent at quarterback for UTSA. Decent on Saturday night is a light at the end of a tunnel. Grundy completed 16 of his 33 attempts for 187 yards and a pick, but didn't get much help from his line as ASU sacked UTSA quarterbacks nine times. Grundy showed a poise and calm even as the rest of the unit was burning to the the ground.
Sure, Sonny Dykes coached the Mustangs in the Frisco Bowl, but Saturday night in Denton he made his official debut with SMU Friday night just west of Frisco in Denton. The northern Metroplex hasn't been kind to Dykes. North Texas pummeled their rivals to the south, 46-23. SMU didn't get their second first down until deep into the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Dana Dimel returned to Texas, this time to lead the UTEP Miners out onto the Sun Bowl turf, only to lose to a better FCS squad in Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks controlled the error-prone Miners throughout the game. Kai Locksley looked like the only offensive measure the Miners could muster, and again, as with Texas State, the defensive was on the field too long.
Taking care of business
TCU and Baylor both handled themselves well against FCS foes. TCU curbed Southern 55-7 with Shawn Robinson looking the part at quarterback and most of their starters spending the second half observing. Baylor didn't let history repeat itself after last seasons opening loss to Liberty at home. The Bears beat Abilene Christian 55-27.
Baylor ran up 606 yards of total offense platooning Charlie Brewer and NC State transfer Jalen McClendon. If the Bears need to heed a red flag, they did allow the Wildcats to gain 466 yards against them, basically equally distributed through the air and on the ground.
Weapons, Weapons, Everywhere
Back to Houston for a second, Kendal Briles isn't sleeping tonight. Instead, he's staring at the ceiling imagining ways he can use his offensive skill players. Bryson Smith is a homerun threat, Marquez Stevenson erupted, Courtney Lark and Keith Corbin both looked dangerous. Four Houston receivers averaged 20 plus yards per catch. Mulbah Car put together 90 yards on the ground, and the glue that held it all together was the electric D'Eriq King.
We suspected Houston had the skill talent to play with anybody, with Smith and Stevenson contributing the pantry may be more stocked than we imagined. Once Houston hit its rhythm and pace, the Cougars looked unstoppable, cutting through the Owls like a knife through warm butter. You cannot simulate the pace Houston plays at and you certainly can't simulate the skill talent.
Before North Texas, Houston, and TCU fans start booking tickets for a playoff site and more importantly, before SMU, Texas State, UTSA, Texas Tech, Texas, and UTEP fans start looking for a tall bridge, remember, it's week one. Numero Uno. This season will have a lot of chapters to contribute and today was just a small portion of the story. Ask Rice about the jump from week one to week two. That improvement isn't unusual. It's a long season with a world of opportunity.
North Texas set an Apogee Stadium attendance record with 29,519 against the Ponies on Saturday night.
Ed Oliver announced his presence with authority, making 13 tackles, 3.5 of those for loss, and registering two quarterback hurries.
Texas State's run game continues to struggle, the Bobcats averaged 2.2 yards per carry on 32 attempts against Rutgers.
UTEP shot itself in the football with three turnovers and ten penalties.
Texas transfer John Bonney led his new team, Texas Tech with eight stops vs. Ole Miss.
A&M rolled up 758 yards in the Aggie's win over FCS opponent Northwestern State.
Baylor had two 100 yards rushers with John Lovett rushing for 115 on just twelve carries and JaMycal Hasty with 102 yards on ten carries.
Kai Locksley accounted for 170 of UTEP's 227 yards of total offense.
T.J. Vasher did this.
About that new kickoff rule...
Jalen Rhodes with the concentration.