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What we saw in week 1 of college football

After a far-too-long offseason (and a smattering of Week 0 matchups), college football is back, and with its triumphant return came everything we have come to know and love about the sport. A wild opening weekend featured upsets, dominating performances, nail-biting finishes, and several teams finding bizarre ways to win. Here are five of the most notable happenings from Week 1.

Florida kicks off new era with an upset win

After last season produced their first ever Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl appearance, No. 7 Utah entered the fall as a trendy playoff pick among fans and media alike. While a playoff berth is not yet completely out of the question, it is certainly far less likely after the Utes were defeated 29-26 by Florida in Gainesville. The Gators trailed late in the fourth quarter, but “The Swamp,” known nationally as one of the most difficult stadiums for visiting teams to win in, worked its magic.

With under two minutes to play, star dual-threat quarterback Anthony Richardson ran for a go-ahead touchdown, his third of the day. And while the Utes nearly responded, Florida’s Amari Burney picked off a Utah pass in the endzone to seal the win. Saturday’s game was the debut for new Florida head coach Billy Napier, who made the jump to the SEC after four highly successful seasons at Louisiana.

Though it is too soon to know how his tenure will play out, it could not have gotten off to a better start than with a clutch victory against a top-10 opponent. Especially after the Gators finished 2021 with a 6-7 record that included several tight losses caused by late-game miscues. It appears doubtful that anyone will challenge Georgia in the SEC East this year. But Florida is already showing signs of a program that is back on the rise.

Wild finish in App State-North Carolina

On Saturday afternoon, North Carolina headed to the mountains to face Appalachian State in a much-anticipated in-state matchup. The Mountaineers came out of the gates swinging, taking an early 21-7 lead. But a dominant second and third quarter stretch gave North Carolina a seemingly insurmountable 20-point advantage entering the fourth.

Then came one of the highest scoring quarters ever in college football, as the teams combined for 62 points in a chaotic final period. With under a minute left, an App State touchdown cut the Tar Heel lead to 56-55. But a gamble to go for two and the win did not pay off, as an incomplete pass on the conversion try appeared to seal a UNC victory. That is, until the Tar Heels not only recovered the onside kick but returned it for a touchdown. That extended their lead to eight but inadvertently gave App State another chance to score in what was still a one-possession game. Albeit one with only 28 seconds remaining.

Turns out, that was plenty of time for the Mountaineers, as they continued to torch a North Carolina defense that struggled all day, needing only two plays to score yet another touchdown. It was only after another two-point conversion stop and onside kick recovery that the Tar Heels could breathe a sigh of relief after winning a game in which they surrendered 40 points in the fourth quarter alone.

Iowa’s improbable victory

Iowa 7, South Dakota State 3. At first glance, that sounds like it could be a baseball score. But even knowing that it came from a football game, it still does not seem like a hugely surprising result. Iowa’s offense has been much-maligned in recent years. And while it is strange to see a team win while scoring just a single touchdown, it is certainly plausible.

But that is not what happened, as the Hawkeyes eked out a victory over an FCS opponent in one of the strangest ways possible. After a first half slugfest that saw the score tied at 3-3, Iowa punter Tory Taylor dropped in a perfect punt that pinned the Jackrabbits at their own one-yard line. Sure enough, a safety resulted on the ensuing play. In the fourth quarter, Taylor placed another punt inside the South Dakota State 10-yard line. Two plays later, the Hawkeyes’ Joe Evans recorded a sack in the endzone for the second Iowa safety of the game.

Somehow, that pair of safeties was all they needed to secure an unlikely season-opening win. In a truly herculean feat, the Iowa defense held the Jackrabbits scoreless in the second half in addition to scoring the four game-winning points. Iowa has experienced great success in recent years behind an elite defense and mediocre offensive play. But they most likely cannot count on winning many more games in which their defense outscores the offense.

Kicking struggles prove costly

It is not uncommon to see college football games decided, at least partially, by missed kicks. Kickers have one of the most difficult and pressure-packed roles in the sport, and most teams do not have an NFL-caliber player at the position, leading to a fair number of misses in high-leverage situations. What is surprising is for these crucial mistakes to occur on extra points rather than field goals, and we saw two instances of this over the weekend.

Hosting rival No. 13 NC State, East Carolina had a chance to pick up an upset win when, trailing 21-14, they scored a late fourth-quarter touchdown that would have tied the game if not for a shocking miss on the PAT. The Pirates forced a quick three and out and drove down the field in the final seconds only to miss another kick. This one was a potential game-winning field goal, sending the Wolfpack home as fortunate victors.

Florida State and LSU faced off on Sunday night in a showcase game that served as new LSU head coach Brian Kelly’s debut with the Tigers after leaving Notre Dame. The LSU offense was stagnant for much of the game but capped off a masterful 99-yard drive with a miraculous touchdown pass as time expired to make the score 24-23 in the Seminoles’ favor. The Tigers opted to kick rather than going for two. And sure enough, Florida State blocked the extra point to win the game. Special teams make special teams, folks.

Georgia and Alabama are in a class of their own

Last year, Georgia and Alabama met in the national championship game, with Georgia claiming their first title since 1980 in a 33-18 win. After the impressive displays that both teams put on this weekend, it would come as no surprise to see a rematch in this year’s playoff. Georgia kicked off their quest to repeat with a huge statement win, traveling to Eugene to face No. 11 Oregon and returning with a 49-3 win under their belt in a game that was somehow even less competitive than the score would indicate. The Bulldogs’ roster was decimated by this year’s NFL Draft. But their consistently elite recruiting classes have allowed them to retool and come back just as strong.

Meanwhile, Alabama began their revenge tour with a casual 55-0 steamrolling of Utah State. Head coach Nick Saban recently referred to the Crimson Tide’s last season as a “rebuilding year.” And despite finishing as SEC champions and national runners-up, that claim may not have been as outlandish as it seemed. The Tide return Heisman winner Bryce Young, potential No. 1 overall draft pick Will Anderson, and a host of other stars eager to make up for their championship-game loss. Nearly all of the season is still ahead. But Georgia and Alabama both look ready to fight for another title.

Matthew Crow

Contact Matthew at mcrow@nd.edu

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