10 college football teams that had concerning starts to the season
The opening week of the college football season gave us some surprising results. Highly-ranked teams looked like they couldn’t justify the hype. Five Top 25 teams fell during the opening weekend, with one going down to an unranked opponents and several others coming dangerously close. That doesn’t include some unranked teams who had hopes of making noise but were ultimately cast aside quite quickly.
Here are ten teams that had very foreboding starts to the 2018 season that could be a sign of trouble ahead.
Look, nobody in the world was expecting the Jayhawks to be any good this season. The likelihood was always that they’d assume their traditional position of Big 12 doormat and would be fortunate to win two or three games. On the evidence, they’ll be lucky to win one. They lost in overtime to FCS Nicholls State on Saturday at home, and that’s the easiest game on their schedule all season. This isn’t Appalachian State — with all due respect to the Colonels, they went 8-4 last season. They were still good enough to beat Kansas, and that should send a chill down the spine of under-pressure Jayhawks coach David Beaty.
Chip Kelly has a lot of work to do. His new UCLA offense got only 15 first downs in their 26-17 loss to Cincinnati, and neither quarterback that saw action threw a touchdown pass. Wilton Speight was sidelined by a back injury that doesn’t appear serious, and freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson looked quite raw when he replaced him. The normally high-powered Kelly offense totaled just 306 yards. It will get better, as this is a largely young and inexperienced team, but there’s much work to do yet.
The combination of new coach Kevin Sumlin and highly-rated quarterback Khalil Tate was supposed to lift Arizona this season, but things are off to an inauspicious start. The Wildcats lost 28-23 to BYU in their season opener, with Tate’s much-discussed running ability kept off display. He managed just 14 yards rushing as the Cougar defense did an excellent job keeping him bottled up and avoided the big play. If more teams follow that blueprint and force Tate to beat them with his arm, it could be an underwhelming season for Arizona.
The fact that Washington lost to Auburn is not a huge red flag. The Tigers are a quality team, and the Huskies will still have every chance to blitz through a rather favorable Pac-12 schedule. More worrisome was the state of Jake Browning and especially the offensive line. Browning threw for 296 yards but completed just over half his passes. His offensive line struggled to buy him time and protect him from the Auburn pass rush. That has to be improved going forward if the Huskies are to fulfill their goal of making it back to the Playoff.
6) Michigan State
There are two ways to look at a game like this if you’re Michigan State. It could be viewed as a wake-up call, or it could be a prelude to an underwhelming season. The Spartans will have to hope it’s the former after requiring a comeback in the last five minutes to beat Utah State. The Aggies successfully picked at the Michigan State secondary, which is a blueprint that will surely be followed by other passing offenses, and a Brian Lewerke pick-six helped keep things close. For a team that was expected to be very good, especially on defense, there were some troubling signs here.
5) Penn State
If Michigan State’s performance at home caused concern, Penn State’s must have sparked some brief moments of panic in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions blew a 14-point lead, gave up 28 points in the fourth quarter, and needed overtime to escape famed giant-killer Appalachian State at home. Trace McSorley had bouts of ineffectiveness and needed a late touchdown pass with 42 seconds left just to tie the game and force the extra time. Appalachian State played well defensively, especially in the first half, and seemed to be very much in control of the tempo of the game for quite a while. The offense will have to be more consistent and the defense tighter if the Nittany Lions want to contend.
The Wolverines get a bit of extra credit, as their defeat came on the road to a top-25 team in Notre Dame. But Jim Harbaugh was brought in to win games like this. There’s no hiding the fact that the last time Michigan won a road game against a ranked opponent, Lloyd Carr was their coach and Chad Henne was the winning quarterback, defeating Brady Quinn’s Fighting Irish in 2006. They’ve tasted defeat 17 straight times since then. The worry here was a brutal performance by the offensive line and a highly-touted quarterback in Shea Patterson who struggled with the pressure. Dylan McCaffrey looked better at quarterback during his second-half cameo. Michigan will have to run a gauntlet to make the playoffs now, and, yes, will have to win at least one and probably two true road games against likely ranked opponents Michigan State and Ohio State.
It’s been a year and Tom Herman apparently hasn’t worked out how to beat Maryland. The Terrapins bolted to a 24-7 lead, blew it, then came back late to beat Texas, who looked mistake-prone and undisciplined. The Longhorns turned the ball over three times, including two Sam Ehlinger interceptions, and were flagged for ten penalties. This was, quite simply, not supposed to happen again, and it leaves the Longhorns facing an uphill fight once again in 2018. Tom Herman oddly does not seem concerned.
2) Florida State
Perhaps there was a reason the Seminoles lost six games last season, and it wasn’t just Deondre Francois’ injury. You can chalk it up to a new system under head coach Willie Taggart, but there’s no hiding the fact that Florida State looked inept in every department during a 24-3 loss to Virginia Tech. They turned the ball over five times, failed to score a touchdown, and looked disorganized and downright incompetent at times. Francois threw three interceptions. The Seminoles had a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. At no point did they look anything close to a contender for ACC glory.
Touted as a potential playoff contender, Miami found itself down 27-3 at halftime to LSU and that was about all she wrote. It begs the question whether the Miami team that lost the last three games of its previous season has really wiped that off. Malik Rosier struggled immensely, going just 15-of-35 with a touchdown and two interceptions. One has to wonder if he can keep the job much longer if there are any more performances like that, especially with N’Kosi Perry waiting in the wings. Worryingly, the defense known for its “Turnover Chain” didn’t force a single LSU turnover. The playoff dream looks dead before it could even really begin.