Which college football team was the most impressive in Week 1?
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Each week during the season, the USA TODAY Sports college staff (Jace Evans, Paul Myerberg, George Schroeder, Erick Smith and Eddie Timanus) will provide their answers to on an intriguing question from college football.
There many outstanding performance in the opening weekend of the college football season. Which team had the most impressive showing among all the highlights in Week 1?
There’s not a lot of excitement in this pick, but defending national champion Alabama was the most impressive team in Week 1. Louisville was sure to take a small step back offensively in its first game without Lamar Jackson, but the Tide was their typical dominant self on defense in limiting Bobby Petrino’s Cardinals to just 268 total yards and keeping them off the scoreboard until the game was already 34-0. But it’s on offense where Alabama actually stood out the most, thanks to the performance of one player: Tua Tagovailoa. The sophomore was sensational in his first start, going 12-of-16 for 227 yards and two touchdowns – both fairly spectacular – while adding 26 rushing yards and another score. Under Nick Saban the Alabama offense probably has never really been considered “high powered,” but with Tagovailoa under center the Tide had things humming on Saturday. If the passing game under Tagovailoa can replicate that performance week to week, it’s hard to see anyone beating Alabama this year.
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I’m going with Auburn since the win against Washington was the best of any team in Week 1. Did Auburn look as impressive as, say, Ohio State or Alabama? Not really. But there’s a big difference between beating a Washington team that’ll be in the mix for the College Football Playoff come December and beating up on a bad team in Oregon State and an average team in Louisville. Auburn deserves to be in the top four of every poll.
Like with most teams in a season opener, Auburn discovered some issues that need fixing, starting with its red zone offense. But concern should be tempered by the opponent; Washington, especially on defense, is very good. Auburn’s 21-16 victory seemed like a very early signal that despite a rugged schedule that includes road games at Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama, the Tigers could be a very real threat in the SEC West and for the College Football Playoff. It seems doubtful they can run that gauntlet unscathed – but beating Washington was a very impressive beginning.
Before giving an my official answer, it’s worth noting the performance of Appalachian State against Penn State. Everyone knows the history of the Mountaineers, yet they almost pulled off a huge upset on the road before the Lions rallied in the final two minutes of regulation.
That said, Notre Dame most impressed in Week 1 for the way it handled Michigan. The Irish had questions, especially on offense. Brandon Wimbush silenced some of those doubters with a fast start that put the Irish ahead with two early scores against one of the better defenses in the country. This could have been a blowout if not for a kickoff return for a score by the Wolverines when Notre Dame went up 21-3.
Their rebuilt offensive line looked solid, and there were enough plays from the wide receivers and running backs to feel like this will be a solid unit. Where things looked really promising is on defense. The Irish stuffed the Michigan running game and there were very few openings in the secondary. This has the makings of a College Football Playoff contender if the momentum can keep going.
I hate to go with the obvious, but the answer has to be Alabama.
Nick Saban’s postgame surliness was the topic of more conversation in the aftermath than the Crimson Tide’s on-field performance. That’s a shame, because the team deserves a lot of credit for taking charge on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Then again, maybe the coach prefers it that way.
The defense was as we’ve come to expect from ‘Bama teams, surrendering next to nothing on the ground and clamping down when Louisville even so much as sniffed the red zone. It was the offense, particularly the balance it can deliver when Tua Tagovailoa is running it, that will have future Tide opponents quaking in their cleats. In the end, the Tide gained 519 total yards, 297 by air and 222 by land, and averaged 7.6 yards per snap.
Sure, the coaches have things to work on. The defense gave up five first downs by penalty, and there are always adjustments that can make an offense even more efficient. But combine an attack like that with the Tide’s stoppers? Yikes.