Who could forget the 2016 college football season? Alabama cruised to a national title, Texas returned to its rightful spot among the sport’s elite, USC’s Clay Helton was fired after just one season on the job, Houston shocked the world by earning a spot in the College Football Playoff and Clemson regressed to be a middling ACC team after earning a spot in the title game the previous year.
What’s that? None of those things happened? How strange, because based on their 2016 week one performances, all of those seemed written in the stars.
As you may recall, Alabama absolutely buried USC in 2016’s week one, 52-6. As it turned out, the Tide didn’t win the title and the USC team that was supposedly a lost cause ended up winning the Rose Bowl.
Texas announced its return to prominence with a double-OT win over #10 Notre Dame in week one, and then went 5-7 including a loss to Kansas before firing Charlie Strong. Those 10th-ranked Fighting Irish finished 4-8.
#15 Houston dominated #3 Oklahoma, 33-23 and catapulted up to #6 in the polls the following week. They ended the year 9-4 and unranked after getting destroyed, 34-10 in the Las Vegas Bowl on December 17th.
Clemson struggled on opening weekend against unranked Auburn and barely escaped with an ugly 19-13 win. You may recall how their season turned out.
That same week one, #12 Michigan State and #24 Oregon won their openers fairly easily. They went a combined 5-17 the rest of the year.
Meanwhile, Penn State and Wisconsin started the year unranked and ended up in New Year’s Six bowls.
The first week of the college football season is an annual celebration – it marks the long-overdue death of the most endless offseason in major sports. And given the number of high-profile matchups, it’s tempting to think that following that inaugural weekend, we now know a lot about how things are going to shake out this coming fall.
The Big Ten is back! Just look at what Maryland and Michigan did to Texas and Florida!
USC is so overrated! They almost lost to Western Michigan!
After watching them shred Florida State, it’s a lock that Alabama is going to defend the 2016 national title they won in January! Oh, right.
For the always level-headed citizenry across Ohio, the Buckeyes’ season opener in Indiana serves as a scarlet-and-gray Rohrshach test.
Based on the first half, Ohio State is going to struggle to move the ball all season because the passing game is terrible (Bench J.T. Barrett!) and also the defense can’t stop the pass (Fire Greg Schiano!) and they’re going to lose four games.
Based on the second half, Ohio State’s passing game is fixed (J.T. Barrett for Heisman!), the rushing game is going to gash opponents all fall, and the defense can lock down even tough opposing passing attacks (Greg Schiano for Heisman!). National title, here they come!
This is not a popular thing to say in this age of #HOT #TAKES and absolute and constant certainty about every single opinion, but while we know more than we did a week ago, there’s still a tremendous amount that we don’t know.
Yes, Alabama is probably going to be quite good. Yes, Ohio State is young in the defensive backfield, but will probably be pretty solid anyway.
But is Michigan’s young team suddenly a top-5 program? Maybe. Perhaps their defense is really as good as it looked on Saturday. Or was that actually a referendum on Florida’s hapless offense, which is about to doom the Gators to a losing record?
Is USC about to fall flat on its face after nine months of unrelenting hype? It’s possible.
Are the Longhorns about to be a Texas-sized trainwreck? Sure, unless they improve throughout Tom Herman’s first season. (SPOILER ALERT: They probably will!) Or maybe Maryland is going to end up a 9-win team this fall and that loss will look respectable by season’s end.
It’s also quite possible that a team or two that is currently ranked in the top 20 is going to have a nightmarish season-long implosion, and someone who’s either been written off or totally ignored will vault into the middle of the national title debate by Halloween.
We won’t know everything a week from now, either.
Week two last year featured another narrow Clemson escape, 30-24 against Troy, while #11 Texas smoked UTEP to improve to 2-0. #24 Oregon started 2-0 as well and new #8 Michigan State reached the 2-0 mark a week later. You may recall a program that lost at home to unranked Virginia Tech in 2014’s week two. They turned out okay.
Teams flying high right now will suffer crucial injuries or suspensions. Some young teams will make shocking improvements in the span of a few games, while others may completely implode due to a lack of leadership. Anyone who tells you for certain that they know which teams are which right now is straight-up lying to you.
There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to keep watching. That starts this weekend, especially with the Buckeyes’ top-10 showdown with Oklahoma. But it’s worth remembering that even a blowout win in a marquee prime time inter-conference battle between two traditional powerhouses can’t guarantee anything.
Just ask the 2016 national champion Ohio State Buckeyes.