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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Despite cancellations left and right, several conferences not playing, the SEC a couple weeks away from kicking off and a slim slate of stellar showdowns, Saturday seemed normal at times.
Clemson and Oklahoma played like their usual selves, Florida State lost an opener, and there were even a couple of huge upsets. In other words, college football was back in (almost) full swing.
After a big Sun Belt morning where Louisiana upset No. 23 Iowa State and Arkansas State stormed back to beat Kansas State, things fell mostly in line besides the Seminoles losing their fourth consecutive opener for the first time since 1976 in a 16-13 setback to Georgia Tech.
We were introduced to a potential star in Oklahoma redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler and reminded just how good players like Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Sam Ehlinger and Charleston Rambo really are.
We tried to sort the storylines and make sense of it all.
B/R experts David Kenyon, Adam Kramer, Kerry Miller and Brad Shepard make up the panel in charge of ranking the teams that are playing. Each panel member submitted a ballot, with a first-place vote being worth 25 points, followed by 24 points for second, 23 for third, etc.
B/R Week Week 2 Top 25
1. Clemson (Last Week: 1)
2. Alabama (2)
3. Georgia (3)
4. Oklahoma (4)
5. Florida (5)
6. Notre Dame (6)
7. Oklahoma State (7)
8. Texas A&M (9)
9. LSU (8)
10. Texas (11)
11. North Carolina (10)
12. Auburn (12)
13. Louisville (17)
14. Tennessee (15)
15. UCF (14)
16. Cincinnati (13)
17. Kentucky (18)
18. Virginia Tech (21)
19. Louisiana (NR)
20. Appalachian State (19)
21. Baylor (23)
22. Miami (20)
23. Memphis (22)
24. Georgia Tech (NR)
T-25. Army (NR)
T-25. BYU (NR)
Others receiving votes: Mississippi State, Pittsburgh, SMU, South Alabama.
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Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
One of this year’s college football favorites is led by a Heisman Trophy candidate upperclassman who likely is playing in his final amateur season before making millions in the NFL. Another one introduced a first-year starter after a run of three exceptional signal-callers who set college football statistics on fire.
Both appeared to be in terrific hands Saturday.
There will be much bigger tests for Clemson junior quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Oklahoma redshirt freshman gunslinger Spencer Rattler, but they passed the initial test with flying colors.
The Sooners they played an awful FCS program in Missouri State, which featured new coach Bobby Petrino. They faced very little resistance in a 48-0 win. But the biggest takeaway from that game was Rattler, who made several poised plays normally reserved for veterans.
Despite the subpar competition, you’d expect some jitters, or at least a bit of shakiness, but none of that was evident for the young man following in the footsteps of Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield. He completed 14-of-17 first-half passes for 290 yards and four scores as OU built a 41-0 halftime advantage.
To be fair, backup Tanner Mordecai took over for the second half and also went 14-of-17 for 157 yards, so don’t anoint anybody just yet. It was still an extremely impressive starting debut for Rattler.
As for Lawrence, he wasn’t nearly as flashy, but he played much better competition. Last year’s national runner-up (and its deep, talented defensive line) began its season on the road against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons made a few plays, but not much else as the Tigers cruised to a 37-13 win.
Lawrence fared just fine, completing 22 of 28 passes for 351 yards and a touchdown, and he ran for two more short-yardage scores, pulling the ball on the read-option and trotting untouched into the end zone.
The duo of contenders will need to keep it going throughout the year, especially since the competition level will tick upward very soon.
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Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Now, which teams are in the Power Five again?
If you were tuning in to the early slate of Big 12 action Saturday, that question may have crossed your mind as No. 23 Iowa State and Kansas State received sucker punch after sucker punch from Sun Belt opponents Louisiana and Arkansas State, respectively, in shocking losses.
The biggest stunner was the Cyclones falling 31-14 to coach Billy Napier’s upstart Ragin’ Cajuns, which were easily the best team on the field in Ames.
They were faster, as evidenced by Chris Smith’s 95-yard kickoff return touchdown to tie the game, a scintillating 78-yard strike from Levi Lewis to Peter LeBlanc to put the Cajuns up for good and an 83-yard punt return touchdown from Eric Garror that sealed the win.
And they were more physical, battling on defense all day and churning out an 11-play, 56-yard touchdown drive to chew 7:01 from the clock and end the game.
How unprecedented was the win? The only other time Louisiana had beat a Top 25 team was at home against Texas A&M in 1996, when future NFL players Jake Delhomme and Brandon Stokley were the Cajuns’ quarterback and top receiver.
This is the first time Louisiana ever beat a ranked opponent on the road. According to ESPN, the Cajuns were 0-31 away from Lafayette all-time against Top 25 foes in the AP poll era. Only North Texas (0-46) and Chattanooga (0-39) were worse.
Coach Blake Anderson’s Red Wolves will see their 35-31 rebound win overshadowed after losing to Memphis a week ago, but it was still impressive. They stormed back after a Wildcats field goal with 2:30 left in the fourth and went 65 yards in just 1:46, winning the game with Jonathan Adams Jr.’s third touchdown reception of the day.
As for the Big 12, the conference is searching for contenders to battle Oklahoma. Though K-State wasn’t expected to be that in Chris Klieman’s second year, the Cyclones were. Now, they’ve got to pick up the pieces from an embarrassing loss that will age much better than expected as good as the Ragin’ Cajuns are.
Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor had better pack a punch, or it could be smooth sailing for the Sooners.
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Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press
For years, many college football fans have clamored for Notre Dame to join a conference. This wacky 2020 season is at least going to give us a look at what the Fighting Irish would look like playing week-in, week-out against an ACC schedule.
For the first time ever, Notre Dame played a conference game on Saturday.
Though it remains to be seen if this is just a one-year wonder, the showdown with Duke at Notre Dame Stadium was pretty cool to see.
So, how did Notre Dame’s ACC foray start? With a win, of course. The Irish sputtered offensively for a large chunk of the game before surviving a 27-13 victory over an improved Blue Devils team.
While fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Book struggled to get on the same page with his inexperienced receiving corps through the first three quarters, there were flashes. Though the leading wide receiver, Joe Wilkins, had just 44 yards, there were other playmakers.
Running back Kyren Williams looked like a budding star, rushing for 112 yards and a pair of scores and grabbing two receptions for 93 yards.
The Irish flew around on defense, with linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah acting as a major disrupter, and the secondary made plays despite losing star safety Kyle Hamilton to a nasty-looking ankle injury. Thankfully, coach Brian Kelly told the Notre Dame Radio Network, per Sean Stires, that Hamilton’s injury was “just an ankle sprain.”
It was an imperfect day that still had its own special brand of lore because of the conference storyline.
There’s no question the Irish are one of the most storied programs in college football history, winning 11 national titles, trotting out seven Heisman Trophy winners and boasting the third-highest winning percentage in the sport’s history.
For one asterisk-infused season, at least, the ACC gets to flaunt all those accolades with Notre Dame being a member institution. It will be interesting to see if this is the start of something more long-term.
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With the Virginia Tech-Virginia and BYU-Army games being postponed due to COVID-19, it’s going to be yet another slim slate of games before the SEC joins the fray starting Sept. 26.
There are a few intriguing matchups, even though there aren’t any on the schedule between ranked opponents, including a couple of intriguing coaches making their debuts.
Miami at Louisville (7:30 p.m. ET)
The best showdown on paper is Miami at Louisville in a game that could determine who is an ACC contender. The Hurricanes looked great running the football in the new D’Eriq King-led, Rhett Lashlee-orchestrated offense in a season-opening win against UAB.
Louisville opened the second year of the Scott Satterfield era with a win against Western Kentucky, and the Cardinals showcased some exciting offensive weapons. It will be fun to watch how this one unfolds.
Running back Javian Hawkins and quarterback Micale Cunningham are explosive weapons, and Miami will need to elevate its game on offense.
Central Florida at Georgia Tech (3:30 p.m. ET)
Geoff Collins has something cooking in the ATL in his second season with Georgia Tech.
After the Yellow Jackets surprised Florida State and spoiled Mike Norvell’s opener as the Seminoles coach, this game became a lot more interesting, especially considering it’s in Atlanta. They played solid on defense and made just enough offensive plays to hand FSU yet another season-opening loss.
They’ll have a much tougher offense next week against quarterback Dillon Gabriel and coach Josh Heupel’s explosive team, which could have a big year in the AAC. This could be a tone-setter for both programs, and it has the potential to be a good one. In a week that doesn’t have many marquee showdowns, this is is worth watching.
The Best of the Rest
Tulsa at Oklahoma State (noon ET): The Cowboys have high hopes for this season, and they will get cranked up a week late after the Tulsa game got bumped to Sept. 19 due to COVID concerns. The two explosive offenses should put on a good show.
Syracuse at Pitt (noon ET): Pat Narduzzi’s team needs quarterback Kenny Pickett to take the next step this season, especially with a loaded defense that has a bunch of playmakers. The Orange hung tough with an upstart North Carolina team up until the fourth quarter this weekend, and all of a sudden, this game has more intrigue than originally expected.
Boston College at Duke (noon ET): When you produce the kind of defenses Jeff Hafley helped develop at Ohio State, you’re going to get a shot to run your own program. That’s exactly what happened when he was selected by Boston College, which will open its season at Duke at noon ET next Saturday.
Hafley received a big boost when Notre Dame transfer quarterback Phil Jurkovec was ruled immediately eligible, and he and running back David Bailey will try to outscore David Cutcliffe’s offense, led by Clemson transfer signal-caller Chase Brice.
Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter at @Brad_Shepard.