Published 2:31 p.m. UTC Sep 2, 2018
It’s not just that Saturday’s win came against Texas. For a Maryland team reeling from a dreadful offseason, any win in the season opener is cause for celebration.
It had been one body shot after another for the Terrapins, starting with the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair this spring during a workout conducted by the Terrapins’ strength and conditioning staff.
In one of the great moments from this Saturday’s action, Maryland honored McNair by lining up with 10 players on the first play of its opening possession. The Terrapins waited for a delay of game to be called before bringing on an 11th offensive player. Credit Tom Herman and Texas for declining the ensuing penalty.
Last month, media reports described a culture of intimidation within Maryland’s football program. Combined with the controversy surrounding McNair’s death, the university decided to place head coach DJ Durkin on leave. Durkin’s future with the program remains in doubt.
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His replacement on an interim basis, former LSU assistant Matt Canada, proved himself up to the challenge of weathering the storm and getting the Terrapins ready for a neutral-site rematch against the Longhorns.
This one was closer than last year’s win, which came on the Longhorns’ home field, and demanded a late interception of Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger to seal the win. But the 34-29 victory showed Maryland’s fortitude in the face of a challenge unequaled in the Football Bowl Subdivision – the death of a teammate followed by a shakeup of the coaching staff.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from the first full Saturday of the college football season:
Any list of the best teams in the Southeastern Conference begins with Alabama and Georgia. In comparison, Auburn spent the offseason largely overlooked. But a hard-fought 21-16 win against Washington paints the Tigers as a very real contender for the national championship. It’s the sort of win that looks outstanding today but will look even stronger come early December, after the Huskies win the Pac-12 title.
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The longtime Iowa coach won his school-record 144th game in the Hawkeyes’ impressive 33-7 victory against Northern Illinois. He passed Hayden Fry, who was his boss when Ferentz was an assistant in Iowa City during the 80s.
Oklahoma’s new starting quarterback looked the part in an easy win against Florida Atlantic, with more than 200 passing yards and two touchdowns in less than a half of play. Murray will find himself on most Heisman Trophy lists heading out of the weekend.
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It’s hard to call Illinois a winner after needing every ounce of energy to outlast Kent State, one of the weakest teams on the Group of Five level. But such is the state of affairs for Lovie Smith and the Illini that any win, however ugly, is cause for celebration. So congratulations, Illinois, and enjoy the feeling of ending your 10-game losing streak. Wins may be few and far between in 2018.
Ohio State’s interim replacement for a suspended Urban Meyer had the Buckeyes ready to go against Oregon State, especially on offense. While Oregon State is awful, check out the offensive totals: Ohio State scored 77 points, gained 721 yards and averaged 7.1 yards per rush. Sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins looked the part in his first career start.
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If you believe in West Virginia as a title contender – and many do – you had to expect the Mountaineers to roll past Tennessee. Maybe the 40-14 win wasn’t as impressive as it seems, considering how the Volunteers hung around in their first game under Jeremy Pruitt. The win was still a good sign for WVU. Those with faith in Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers were rewarded.
Don’t look so surprised. What about the Longhorns’ recent past made you think this year would be any different? Maybe the Longhorns turn it around and become a factor in the Big 12 race. Maybe not. But the idea that Texas warranted a spot in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll was always ridiculous.
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Ole Miss is going to score in bunches on more opponents that not in 2018, so Texas Tech giving up 47 points in another bad loss wasn’t too unexpected. That doesn’t mean this sort of loss won’t raise the temperature under Kliff Kingsbury, who badly needs to indicate some progress to increase his somewhat tenuous job security.
The Trojans are a program on the rise under coach Neal Brown, who is destined to one day take the controls of a program on the Power Five level. But the Trojans aren’t quite up to the challenge of taking on the best the Group of Five has to offer. A loss at home to Boise State shows how the Broncos are built to reach a New Year’s Six bowl.
A win is a win, even against a team from the Sun Belt Conference, and Penn State will happily take Saturday’s overtime win against Appalachian State and move its focus to next week’s matchup with rival Pittsburgh. But that the win demanded every ounce of the Nittany Lions’ strength will undoubtedly raise questions about the team’s ability to win the Big Ten.
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No one expected anything big from Chip Kelly’s first year with the Bruins. But a loss to Cincinnati? At home? That’s not exactly how UCLA drew it up. On a positive note, Kelly’s first game at Oregon ended with a loss to Boise State and Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount punching a Boise State defender after the final whistle. Things got better from there. Maybe history will repeat itself at UCLA.
Washington’s far from done in the playoff chase. The Huskies are clearly talented enough and have the leadership necessary to run the table from here and be a factor come December. The loss to Auburn still does a number to the national reputation of the Pac-12, which suffered from last year’s disaster of a showing in bowl play and really needed a win from UW to regain some respect from the other Power Five leagues. And, most of all, from the playoff selection committee.