Lang’s World: College Football Week 1 Winners and Losers

College football is back! And after spending a weekend watching games from coast to coast—and unsuccessfully trying to avoid that ubiquitous Applebee’s commercial—even though it’s still super early, I think we can agree on a few things…

Winner: Memphis

Tiger football fans have had reason to feel a bit of creeping anxiety the last few years. After Mike Norvell took the program to new heights and new Bowls and even got “College Gameday” to come to town, Norvell unceremoniously decamped for Tallahassee and Florida State. New Coach Ryan Silverfield seemed respected within the program, but Norvell was a tough act to follow for anyone.

After fighting through last season’s weird year and losing a bunch of players, Silverfield made the tough call of starting true freshman quarterback Seth Henigan yesterday in the season opener. And it worked! Henigan was efficient and smooth, taking care of the ball and mixing in deep throws.

I know it was just Nicholls (State?), but as season openers go, this seemed like a solid first step, not only for the Tigers, but also for Silverfield, as he continues to try and put his own stamp on this program.

Loser: Clemson

The Georgia Bulldogs really had nothing to gain by opening their season with an out-of-conference match against Clemson. That’s because Georgia, of course, plays an SEC schedule, and depending on which teams you draw from the other side of the Conference, you’re still going to play a gauntlet of quality teams. Even this season, as UGA has turned out to have a relatively easy schedule, the Dawgs still have to play Florida and Auburn, and if they win their half of the conference, they still likely have the mighty Alabama waiting for them in the SEC title game.

Clemson, meanwhile, has a schedule stocked with ACC teams, with a cherry on top at the end of the season with an SEC game against South Carolina, who is currently starting a graduate assistant coach at QB.

If Clemson had opened their season with a win against UGA, they’d have that signature win against a top five team in pocket, which they could point to whenever strength of schedule was invoked.

Alas, UGA managed to eke out a 10-3 win over Clemson on Saturday night, and while UGA was missing a ton of players on the offensive side, the defense was lights out all night. Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei was a stunning drop-off from Trevor Lawrence, finishing 19-for-37 with one interception, which accounted for the lone touchdown scored in the game. Uiagalelei was flummoxed by UGA’s aggressive schemes and not helped by Clemson’s porous o-line, to the point where you wondered if he’d maybe get yanked from the game. (I also wondered if Dr. Pepper would yank him from their national ad campaign; could he be the first NIL casualty?)

So, the Dawgs got the win, and will likely hop up from the fifth spot in the rankings, especially after Oklahoma nearly fumbled away a big lead over Tulane. Clemson will likely run the rest of the table and win the ACC, but will this one loss end up keeping them out of the postseason? It very well might.

Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei getting sacked by the Georgia defense

Loser: Style over Substance

Minnesota coach PJ Fleck has a lot going on. He has his own copyrighted motivational tactics! He wears ties on the field! He burns scented candles in his office! Coach Fleck is fired up and he’s going to make sure that you are fired up as well!

All that stuff was enough to get Minnesota football, which hasn’t really been nationally relevant since Glen Mason was around, in a season opener against Ohio State on prime time national television. And after a promising start to the game, Minnesota gave up 45 points and got thumped right there on national TV.

Meanwhile, on Saturday night down in Atlanta, Georgia Tech opened their season against Northern Illinois. For many years, Tech coach Paul Johnson kept them competitive by running the triple option offense, which wasn’t sexy but worked despite the recruiting disadvantages Tech faced. But alumni gonna alumni, and eventually Johnson was shoved aside for former Temple coach Geoff Collins, who showed up wearing tight t-shirts and promising to Make Tech Great Again. Collins famously (and hilariously) banned red pens in the football facility, not wanting to give their red and black rival Georgia any inroads whatsoever, instituted an Instagram-worthy red carpet walk for the Jackets players, and slapped an aspirational “404” on their merch. But under Collins’s watch, the Jackets have consistently proved branding doesn’t win games. And this weekend, despite being 21-point favorites, the Jackets lost their opener to Northern Illinois.

After last season, Vanderbilt finally parted ways with Coach Derek Mason, who had always managed to produce a win or two out of nowhere for a completely outmanned Vanderbilt team. New coach Clark Lea arrived and talked a big game. He immediately banned numbers from jerseys in practice, saying the players needed to earn recognition. Yesterday, Vandy opened their season by getting absolutely crushed at home against East Tennessee State University, 23-3.

The recurring theme here: You can have all the bells and whistles and hashtags you want, but long-term, there is no sustainable substitute for winning.

Unless you’re Ted Lasso.

Winner: Mayonnaise

I am well aware that there is a loud faction of people out there who are fundamentally opposed to mayonnaise. Why? Well, that’s less clear. Mayonnaise, after all, is essentially just fat whipped into a solid-ish form. Those same folks likely eat butter and oil, I guess they just don’t approve of blenders or mixers? Do these people hate emulsification?

Anyway, that aforementioned Georgia/Clemson opener was sponsored by Duke’s Mayo, which is already beloved in the South. (And speaking as an unbiased expert, Duke’s is undeniably the best-tasting jarred mayonnaise brand). Because Duke’s was such an integral part of the weekend, we saw several fans celebrate the start of college football by binge-eating mayonnaise, straight out of the jar.

As a long-time mayonnaise advocate, I appreciate mayo making its way into the national conversation and being considered on a large platform. But I also must admit, watching people eat mayo straight out of giant jars is pretty gross.

Loser: Ed Orgeron

LSU coach Ed Orgeron had a heckuva run two seasons ago. The long-time assistant (and Louisiana native) inherited the top job in the Bayou, and assembled an all-time team, going undefeated and winning LSU’s first national title in over a decade. Orgeron was a perfect fit for a team that nobody saw coming, with his lineman’s build and a voice that made gravel seem smooth. (Every time I see a close-up of Ed Orgeron’s face during a broadcast, it makes me wonder if the aspect ratio on my TV is messed up.)

But last year, everything fell apart pretty quickly. Sure, it was a weird, COVID-affected season, with multiple players opting out to preserve their NFL status, but LSU followed a 15-0 perfect season with a 5-5 limp through what should have been a victory lap. And while Coach O has talked ad nauseum about how they were a quick fix away from getting things back on track, LSU got trashed in the Rose Bowl by UCLA to open their season. And it wasn’t even really competitive—UCLA moved the ball at will and held LSU to 48 rushing yards.

I picked UCLA in this one because I suspected, despite Coach O’s assertations, LSU wasn’t just a quick fix away from being a top tier team again. Man, did they prove me right.

Ed Orgeron on the sideline in the game against UCLA

Winner: Alabama

We all know Alabama is the mightiest of the mighty in college football. Honestly, what else is left to say about a team that dominates, year after year after year? I’m as speechless as coach Nick Saban, who hasn’t had anything interesting to add to the discourse in years.

I don’t think anyone genuinely believed that Alabama was going to lose their season opener against Miami. Sure, they were debuting a ton of new pieces, especially on offense, along with a new offensive coordinator. But this was Alabama, which has more five stars than the world’s best Uber driver. Couldn’t they just plug and play?

Yes, they could. I picked Miami in this one, thinking Alabama would win easy, but Miami QB D’Eriq King would be talented enough to keep this one within the 19-point spread. I was wrong, very wrong. Alabama plugged and played, and they won going away, coasting down the stretch to a 44-13 victory. Alabama was elite, in every facet of the game. They aren’t exciting, but they’re still great, and unless something drastic happens, I don’t know how they can’t be the favorite to win it all this season. Again.

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