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2012 Season Off and Running

Alabama Runs Over Michigan; Clemson Beats Auburn

by Dave Congrove
CollegeFootballPoll.com
September 3, 2012

Virginia Tech's thrilling 20-17 overtime win over Georgia Tech on Labor Day Monday night was the proper dessert to a 76-game smorgasbord of college football on the opening week of the 2012 season.

It looked like a Yellow Jackets win was in the bag when they took a 17-14 lead with 44 seconds left. That is, until a Virginia Tech offense that had been sluggish all night awoke for just enough plays to cover 51 yards and set-up a 41-yard field goal at the buzzer. Georgia Tech's overtime possession ended in a goal line interception and Virginia Tech drove to the 1-yard line before settling for a 4th-down, 17-yard game-winning field goal. It was the second overtime game in-a-row for Frank Beamer's bunch which lost the Sugar Bowl 23-20 to Michigan in OT.

With Virginia Tech's miracle win, the Congrove Computer Rankings' projected BCS Championship matchup of the Hokies vs. Oklahoma stays alive through week one. The Sooners also found themselves in a tight opener at UTEP, ultimately winning 24-7. That contest was knotted at 7 at halftime and was still just a 10-7 game until Oklahoma scored a touchdown with 11:29 to go in the game.

After projecting Michigan to win by 4.47 points, the computer suffered a processor meltdown when Alabama rolled to a 41-14 victory at Cowboys Stadium on Saturday night. And yes, that score is closer than the game appeared to be.

My preseason Congrove Computer Rankings had Alabama losing three games, but Saturday night's Alabama team didn't look like one which believed it would do anything other than win another national championship. The Wolverines managed just 11 first downs and were handed their worst opening day defeat in the history of the nation's winningest program.

Saturday night's other big game saw Clemson edge Auburn 26-19 to end a 6-game losing streak in Atlanta and give the ACC a much-needed split in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games. Tennessee defeated North Carolina State 35-21 with surprisingly relative ease on Friday night.

There were plenty of surprises that developed on Saturday and Penn State's 24-14 home loss to Ohio - correctly forecasted by the computer - was just the beginning.

Several other teams struggled against MAC opponents, but the conference blew its chance to bag a few more victories. Toledo lost 24-17 in overtime at Arizona; Northern Illinois was outscored 9-0 in the final quarter of its 18-17 loss to Iowa at Soldier Field; Bowling Green was tied at 14-apiece with Florida in the 3rd quarter before the Gators scored the game's final 13 points to make the final 27-14; Buffalo was only down 24-16 at Georgia until the 'Dawgs ran away in the 2nd half for a 45-23 win; and Western Michigan never really got in the game but still wasn't blown away in a 24-7 loss at Illinois.

Miami (Ohio) even had a 3-0 lead at Ohio State for nearly 6 minutes, but Urban Meyer's debut as head coach wasn't about to be spoiled in Columbus. Ohio State ran off 35 unanswered points before the RedHawks finally scored a touchdown and the probation-constrained Buckeyes strolled to a 56-10 win.

A pair of FCS teams delivered upsets - one minor and one major - to add to a pair from Thursday night. The minor one was Memphis' 20-17 setback to Tennessee-Martin. The major was Pittsburgh's 31-17 loss to Youngstown State in a game which it trailed by as many as 18 and never led. Heck, even Memphis led 7-0 in its loss.

On Friday, Idaho was thumped 20-3 by Eastern Washington and McNeese State defeated Middle Tennessee 27-21 after leading by as much as 24-6.

On Saturday, several other FCS teams fell just short of beating their higher-classified brethren:
- Wake Forest escaped Liberty 20-17. The Flames beat Ball State in the 2011 opener.

- William & Mary had Maryland beaten until Mary had to go home early to start dinner, leaving William to fend for himself in a 7-6 loss.

- Larry Bird's college team, the Indiana State Sycamores, came within a TD of beating the Indiana Hoosiers in a 24-17 ballgame.

- After trailing 26-7, Northern Iowa rallied to fall by just 26-21 at Wisconsin.

- On Thursday, Central Michigan overcame a 24-10 deficit to SE Missouri State to pull out a 38-27 win.

California returned to its on-campus stadium after a year of major renovations and promptly lost 31-24 to visiting Nevada. That wasn't a major upset as Nevada is suppose to be a very good team, but it is always an upset of some degree when a team from the PAC-12 can't hold home serve against a team from the Mountain West that isn't named Boise State.

I think it's safe to say that the biggest upset came at Houston where the Cougars, projected to once again play for the Conference USA title and go 11-1, were dominated 30-13 at home by FBS upstart Texas State. The Bobcats are in a transition year from the FCS to the FBS. Houston QB David Piland was just 17-of-44 for 211 yards in his first start since going 2-6 while playing in place of an injured Case Keenum in 2010. The loss spoiled the regular season debut of head coach Tony Levine who led Houston to a TicketCity Bowl win last January 1 over Penn State.

In all, four teams are making the leap from the FCS to the FBS and two of them played each other on Saturday as UTSA nipped South Alabama 33-31 in Mobile. The game was originally scheduled for Thursday until Hurricane Isaac forced the two-day delay.

UMass is the fourth such school and the Minutemen were treated rudely for all 60 minutes in a 37-0 welcoming at border rival UConn.

Northwestern and Syracuse battled in an exciting, high scoring game that saw the Orange rally from a 35-13 deficit in the waning minutes to take a 41-35 lead, only to lose 42-41.

If you really like offense, two games particularly stood out on Saturday. West Virginia picked up where it left off in last year's 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson by crushing state rival Marshall 69-34 in Morgantown. And Oklahoma State hung a 84-0 hurtin' on helplessly outmanned FCS member Savannah State.

The 2012 college football season kicked off Thursday night with a near upset of a highly-ranked team by an unranked host, and ended with a triple-overtime thriller nearly 8 hours later. In between, a pair of FCS teams upended FBS schools.

South Carolina QB Connor Shaw got knocked out of the game briefly at Vanderbilt and the Gamecocks nearly took an early exit from the BCS Championship race. The ol' ball coach, Steve Spurrier, needed Marcus Lattimore's second touchdown run with 12:05 left in the game to escape Nashville with a 17-13 win over the Commodores in an SEC contest. South Carolina began the year ranked 11th in my Congrove Computer Rankings while Vanderbilt started at No. 37. The computer forecasted a narrow 6.88-point win for the Gamecocks.

The computer also projected a 4.03-point nail-biter for Minnesota at UNLV and the Golden Gophers dug out a 3-point 30-27 win in triple-overtime. A Runnin' Rebels interception on their opening possession of the third OT wound up sealing their fate.

BYU was predicted by the computer to get a 24.17-point win at home over Washington State and delivered a 24-point 30-6 victory. It was the debut of Mike Leach as head coach of Washington State.

Terry Bowden returned to the sidelines as the head coach at Akron, but his Zips got zapped 56-14 at home by UCF.

Friday didn't bring any surprise winners, though Stanford's 20-17 home win over San Jose State was an eye-opener. The Cardinal were 4-TD computer favorites, even though it projected the Spartans to have a 7-5 season. Stanford appeared to miss Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener much more than anticipated and the computer may be in deep trouble for forecasting Stanford to go 11-1 while beating USC at home on September 15.

Also on Friday, the Michigan State defense was staunch as it allowed just 208 total net yards in a 17-13 home win over Boise State. The Spartan offense was lackluster except for the 200+-yard and 2-TD rushing performance by Le'Veon Bell. The Broncos failed to score an offensive touchdown as they played a game without Kellen Moore at QB for the first time since 2007.

Friday's edition of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game saw Tennessee score a 35-21 win over N.C. State as senior QB Mike Glennon threw 4 interceptions and just 1 TD. Glennon tossed just 12 picks in all of 2011. Conversely, the Vols' Tyler Bray threw for 332 yards and 2 TD's.

Sunday added a couple of expected routs as Baylor, sans RG3 and K-Dub (Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright), blasted former Southwest Conference foe SMU 59-24 in a game that wasn't even that close. Nick Florence, who started 7 games in 2009 when Griffin was injured, threw for 342 yards and 4 TD's and Terrance Williams had 7 catches for 139. Earlier, Louisville won by the computer's projected margin of 18 when it scored a 32-14 rout of rival Kentucky.

Interesting to note that Conference USA was just 2-10 as a whole and the west division was winless (0-6) in opening weekend games. Conversely, the Big 12 was undefeated with 9 wins as TCU sat idle.

HURRICANE ISAAC CAUSES POSTPONEMENTS:
Hurricane Isaac made landfall in Louisiana on Tuesday and necessitated changes to this week's schedule. It forced the postponement of the Texas A&M-Louisiana Tech tussle to October 13, the UTSA-South Alabama game from Thursday to Saturday and the Nicholls State-Oregon State contest to (possibly) December 1.

FBS vs. FCS:
FBS teams went 91-6 (.938) vs. FCS teams last year.

This weekend, 35 such games were played and the FBS went 31-4. Those results actually lowered the FBS' winning percentage from .921 to .919 in such games since 2003.

This year, 101 FBS teams play a total of 108 games against FCS foes. UTSA is in its first year of transitioning from the FCS and plays 4 such schools. Cincinnati, Florida State, Pittsburgh and Texas A&M each play two such games.

The 6 teams that fell victim to FCS teams a year ago were Minnesota, New Mexico, UNLV, Western Kentucky, Duke and Oregon State

Here are the results of the FBS losses to FCS schools this season:
9/1: Youngstown State 31, Pittsburgh 17
9/1: Tennessee-Martin 20, Memphis 17
8/30: McNeese State 27, Middle Tennessee 21
8/30: Eastern Washington 20, Idaho 3

STREAKS:
TCU - 8 straight wins overall. 24 straight conference wins. Did not play.

Northern Illinois - 9-game win streak was halted in 18-17 loss to Iowa at Soldier Field in Chicago on Saturday. The Huskies still own streaks of 8 straight conference wins and 15 straight home wins.

LSU - 18-game home winning streak. Defeated North Texas 41-17 on Saturday.

Arkansas State - 8-game conference win streak. Lost 57-34 at Oregon on Saturday.

Virginia Tech - 13 straight wins in true road games (at opponents' venue). Beat Georgia Tech 20-17 in overtime at home on Monday night.

Kansas - Snapped 10-game losing streak with a 31-17 home win over FCS member South Dakota St. on Saturday. Still owns losing streak of 10 straight FBS games.

Tulane - 11 straight losses overall. Fell 24-12 at home to Rutgers on Saturday.

Akron - 9 straight losses overall, 20 straight road losses. Lost 56-14 at home to UCF on Thursday.

New Mexico - 22 straight road losses. Defeated FCS member Southern 66-21 on Saturday.

Mississippi - 14 straight conference losses. Downed FCS member Central Arkansas 49-27 on Saturday.

NEW COACHES:
28 teams have a new college football coach in the FBS ranks this season. Last season saw 24 new head coaches, 10 of whom matched or exceeded the W-L record of their predecessors' final season.

Here are the opening games for each new head coach:

Team Coach Game
Akron Terry Bowden (0-1) Lost 56-14 vs. UCF on Thursday
Arizona Rich Rodriguez (1-0) Won 24-17 vs. Toledo in OT on Saturday.
Arizona State Todd Graham (1-0) Won 63-6 vs. vs. Northern Arizona (FCS) on Thursday
Arkansas John L. Smith (1-0) Won 49-24 vs. Jacksonville State (FCS) on Saturday
Arkansas State Gus Malzahn (0-1) Lost 57-34 Saturday at Oregon
Colorado State Jim McElwain (1-0) Won 22-17 Saturday vs. Colorado (at Denver)
FAU Carl Pellini (1-0) Won 7-3 vs. Wagner (FCS) on Friday
Fresno State Tim DeRuyter (1-0) Won 37-10 Saturday vs. Weber State (FCS)
Hawaii Norm Chow (0-1) Lost 49-10 Saturday at USC
Houston Tony Levine (0-1) Lost 30-13 Saturday vs. Texas State
Illinois Tim Beckman (1-0) Won 24-7 Saturday vs. Western Michigan
Kansas Charlie Weis (1-0) Won 31-17 Saturday vs. South Dakota St. (FCS)
Massachusetts Charley Molnar (0-1) Lost 37-0 at UConn on Thursday
Memphis Justin Fuente (0-1) Lost 20-17 Saturday vs. Tennessee-Martin (FCS)
Mississippi Hugh Freeze (1-0) Won 49-27 Saturday vs. Central Arkansas (FCS)
New Mexico Bob Davie (1-0) Won 66-21 Saturday vs. Southern (FCS)
North Carolina Larry Fedora (1-0) Won 62-0 Saturday vs. Elon (FCS)
Ohio State Urban Meyer (1-0) Won 56-10 Saturday vs. Miami (O.)
Penn State Bill O'Brien (0-1) Lost 24-14 Saturday vs. Ohio
Pittsburgh Paul Chryst (0-1) Lost 31-17 Saturday vs. Youngstown State (FCS)
Rutgers Kyle Flood (1-0) Won 24-12 Saturday at Tulane
Southern Miss Ellis Johnson (0-1) Lost 49-20 Saturday at Nebraska
Texas A&M Kevin Sumlin Game Thursday vs. Louisiana Tech (at Shreveport) moved to 10/13.
Toledo Matt Campbell (0-1) Lost 24-17 in OT Saturday at Arizona
Tulane Curtis Johnson (0-1) Lost 24-12 Saturday vs. Rutgers
UAB Garrick McGee (0-1) Lost 39-29 Saturday vs. Troy
UCLA Jim Mora (1-0) Won 49-24 at Rice on Thursday
Washington State Mike Leach (0-1) Lost 30-6 at BYU on Thursday