College football games, Week 1: Alabama consistently undecided QB situation leads our storylines
Taking a closer look at what you need to know entering Week 1 of the 2018 college football season
Quick, try to remember the last time an Alabama quarterback started and finished the season as a starter -- uninterrupted.
It was 2014. A converted running back under the first-year guidance of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin set the program's single-season passing record.
How could you forget Blake Sims?
This is another way of saying it doesn't necessarily matter who starts for Alabama on Saturday against Louisville. The No. 1 offseason story -- until the firing of Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith -- regarding the No. 1 team is now sure to bleed into the regular season.
You should already know sophomore Tua Tagovailoa and junior Jalen Hurts are listed as "co-starters." The assumption is that the more athletic and more accurate Tagovailoa eventually gets the job. But Nick Saban has proven he has no problem taking his quarterback battles into the regular season.
- In 2011, AJ McCarron won the job in the second game of the season at Penn State, beating out Phillip Sims, who eventually transferred to Virginia and then Winston-Salem State.
- In 2015, Jacob Coker solidified his position by leading a near comeback against Ole Miss in Week 3. Cooper Bateman actually started that game.
- In 2016, Blake Barnett was the fourth season starter in four years for Bama. After a few series against USC in the opener, Barnett (now at South Florida via Arizona State) was replaced by Hurts.
- Hurts made it to halftime of his 28th consecutive start in the College Football Playoff National Championship … before Tua took over.
Saban has played this brilliantly. Remember when Hurts' dad said his son was going to be "the biggest free agent in college football" if he didn't start? Hurts not only stayed but is aided by the new redshirt rule that will allow him to play in four games this season without losing a year of eligibility.
But even that's assuming Tua gets the job. Despite all the promise of Tagovailoa, he has thrown all of 77 regular-season passes. We may know Hurts' ceiling. We're assuming Tua's is higher.
With Hurts, Alabama has some of the best quarterback depth in the country. Without him, Saban is a tweaked knee from having to play redshirt freshman Mac Jones.
Yeah, yeah, Jones was a co-MVP of the spring game. That actually reinforces the point made here. The defending national champions are going to be fine – perhaps great – at quarterback.
Let's take a look at eight more Week 1 college football storylines.
2. Blowout City: Avert your eyes from the top five this opening week. The top five teams in the preseason AP Top 25 -- Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Wisconsin and Ohio State -- are favored by a cumulative 187.5 points. Of course you can't not look. We're finally, actually playing games.
3. Can't Afford To Lose In Week 1: These three are in must-win situations right away ... as must-win as a situation can get in Week 1, at least.
- Jim Harbaugh: A loss at Notre Dame would make him 1-6 against Michigan's three biggest rivals (including Ohio State and Michigan State). Coming off his worst season at Michigan (8-5), Harbs needs to make a statement. This is arguably his best team in Ann Arbor. He finally has a difference-making quarterback (Shea Patterson) to go with a dominant defense. Then there's this nugget: Michigan hasn't beaten a top 25 opponent on the road since 2006 (25 straight). How is that possible?
- Washington: The Auburn game already might be the Pac-12 game of the year. It's possible the Tigers might be the highest-ranked team the Huskies play in 2018. That's right, in the opener. A loss to Auburn means Washington can't lose again (a two-loss team has never made the playoff). A loss to Auburn by the Pac-12's best team doesn't help repair the league's sliding image. A loss to Auburn will be noticed by the CFP Selection Committee. They're human' they have biases. Each Pac-12 team lost at least three games last season. The league went 1-8 in bowls. I can't stress how important the Peach Bowl Kickoff Game is to Washington, the Pac-12 and West Coast football.
- Ed Orgeron: Given LSU's loaded schedule, this is one helluva way to open the season – against Miami in the Jerry Dome. The watch is on for Coach O (and athletic director Joe Alleva) with road games at Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M. That's before considering SEC West foes Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama coming to Baton Rouge. Like the Tigers, the Canes have a stout defense. The X-factor is Ohio State transfer quarterback Joe Burrow making his first career start. Don't ask me. I don't know how good Burrow (39 career passes) will be either.
4. Most Entertaining Team In The Country: It was never going to be easy for defensive mastermind Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee. Out of the box, he faces West Virginia (3:30 p.m. Saturday on CBS) with the offense that fell 20 receiving yards short of having a 3,000-yard passer, three 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,000-yard rusher. Oh, and WVU quarterback Will Grier is considered a Heisman Trophy front runner.
5. Oh, Canada: Matt Canada has a wonderful opportunity. Maryland's interim coach has been an offensive coordinator at seven places since 2010. Now he's being asked to nurse Maryland through a mess as the school investigates its suspended coach (D.J. Durkin). The Terps hung 50 on Texas last year. The guess here is that they're ready to unload some emotional baggage and unload on the Longhorns. Here's an opening week Hail Mary. Maryland upsets Texas, the Terps get to a bowl, and Canada becomes the permanent coach.
6. Quarterback factory: IMG Academy put out this juicy tidbit early in the week: Every starting quarterback at the Florida prep powerhouse for the last four years will be starting for a Power Five school this weekend
- Zack Annexstad, Minnesota, 2016-17
- Deondre Francois, Florida State, 2014
- Kellen Mond, Texas A&M, 2016
- Shea Patterson, Michigan, 2015
- Art Sitkowski, Rutgers, 2017
7. Are You Ready For Some … Filings?: If you thought it was over at Ohio State, you would be wrong. A spokesman told me that the Tuesday document dump you saw will be ongoing. The school will continue to release documents "as they relate to the investigation." Distractions? Oh yeah, there will be distractions and they're only starting to intrude on the Buckeyes prior to the opener against Oregon State.
8. Note of the week: New Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher is making more this week in salary ($625,000, $7.5 million over 12 regular-season games) than Northwestern State is in guarantee money coming to play in College Station, Texas ($515,000).
9. Quick kicks: On Monday, Virginia Tech will visit Florida State for only the second time since FSU joined the ACC in 1992 (Virginia Tech joined the conference in 2004) … Penn State hasn't started consecutive preseasons ranked in the top 10 since 1994-95 … The last time USC (hosting UNLV) lost a nonconference home game to a team other than Notre Dame was Kansas State in 2001 … West Virginia and Tennessee come into their game in Charlotte each having lost three in a row. Those losses have come by a combined 239-110
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