College football Week 1 started in earnest over Labor Day weekend, with spectators back in stadiums to watch a full slate of games stretching from Wednesday to Monday. Some teams notched early wins and filled their fans with optimism, while others only met despair in the season’s early going.
Though there are still three months until conference championship games, a few teams have put themselves in prime positions and a few have already dug themselves into holes. This is a sport that decides programs’ status by having people vote on how good they are, so there’s no reason we, too, can’t pick some winners and losers based on just one week of games. Here are a few participants whose Week 1 efforts were particularly noteworthy.
🚨 74-YARD PICK-SIX 🚨
CHRISTOPHER SMITH INTERCEPTS DJ UIAGALELEI AND PUTS GEORGIA ON THE BOARD! #GODAWGS
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 5, 2021
The Bulldogs beat Clemson 10–3 in a blockbuster meeting in Charlotte. They notched a win despite offensive issues: Georgia didn’t score a touchdown (though neither did Clemson), and the only player to find the end zone all night was UGA safety Christopher Smith, who ran back a 74-yard interception. Georgia’s offensive output was concerning but understandable given some absences at receiver.
On the other hand, the Dawgs’ defense was excellent, and they held Clemson to just two rushing yards. (Yes, two. That’s not a typo.) Kirby Smart’s team can put up with some offensive worries given that it already has a resume win and has now built up some margin for error in its quest to make the College Football Playoff.
Loser: The ACC
Clemson (ranked No. 3) lost to Georgia. North Carolina (No. 10) lost to Virginia Tech. And Miami (No. 14) got devoured by Alabama. Though Virginia Tech is itself an ACC team, it’s still brutal for the conference to have three top-15 teams fall on the same weekend—and the opening weekend of the season, at that. The league also had arguably the most embarrassing loss of Week 1: Georgia Tech’s 22–21 failure at home against the MAC’s Northern Illinois, a team that went 0–6 in 2020.
BRYCE YOUNG 94-YARD TD TO JAMESON WILLIAMS 🤯
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 4, 2021
Many of us have entertained the idea that Alabama might take a small step back in 2021 given the program’s many departures from its offense and coaching staff. The Crimson Tide poured freezing cold water on that notion by beating Miami 44–13, and the game didn’t even feel that close. Quarterback Bryce Young was brilliant, and this defense appears to be one of Nick Saban’s best: The Tide completely neutralized Miami’s star quarterback, D’Eriq King.
Kyle Philips COOKED LSU's defense 🤯
UCLA is pulling away
— Bleacher Report CFB (@BR_CFB) September 5, 2021
The Tigers need to bounce back this fall. After a 15–0 run to a national title in 2019, they sputtered to a 5–5 mark in 2020 and looked lost on both sides of the ball. Ed Orgeron hired new offensive and defensive coordinators—something a coach does when he knows a quick turnaround is vital.
The early returns are not good. LSU lost to UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night by a score of 38–27, and the Tigers seemed to be the less physical team throughout the game. Orgeron is now in the once-unthinkable position of facing some job insecurity less than two years after sitting atop the sport. College football is a tough business.
Winner: FCS teams
Six teams from the Football Championship Subdivision, the lower half of Division I, beat teams from the Bowl Subdivision (FBS) this weekend. This slate of games included Montana beating a ranked Washington in Seattle, the first time an FCS team has beaten a ranked FBS opponent in five years:
FCS victories over ranked FBS teams
2007: Appalachian State def. 5. Michigan
2010: James Madison def. 13. Virginia Tech
2013: Eastern Washington def. 25. Oregon State
2016: North Dakota State def. 13. Iowa
Montana 13, 20. Washington 7
— Kyle Bonagura (@BonaguraESPN) September 5, 2021
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 4, 2021
The Badgers lost at home to Penn State on Saturday, 16–10, despite out-gaining the Nittany Lions 365 yards to 297. They turned the ball over in Penn State’s half of the field three times, and at one point they allowed Penn State to block a 25-yard field goal attempt. UW repeatedly squandered opportunities to put themselves in command of the game, and quarterback Graham Mertz ended the day with some ugly stats: 22-for-37, passing for 185 yards, no scores, and two interceptions.
Winner: McKenzie Milton
WELCOME BACK, MCKENZIE MILTON 👏
After almost three years away from football because of a devastating leg injury, he passes for a first down in his first play and goes 4-for-4 in a TD drive. pic.twitter.com/G8A2ipCNd7
— ESPN (@espn) September 6, 2021
Notre Dame beat Florida State on Sunday night in Tallahassee in overtime, 41–38. Good for the Irish. The most interesting story of the night, however, was FSU quarterback Milton, who made his first appearance after suffering a gruesome knee injury at the end of the 2018 season, when he played for UCF.
At the time, Milton’s doctor just hoped he’d be able to walk again without pain, and he said anything above that “would be a bonus.” Milton rehabbed, though, and got himself back into playing shape before transferring to FSU for this season. Milton entered in the fourth quarter after starting QB Jordan Travis had his helmet come off during a play (requiring him to exit for at least the next snap), and he led FSU on a 10-point comeback to force overtime. Just for stepping onto the field, he wins the week.
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