The opening weekend of college football has been pretty dull over the last few years. The decision to add a 12th game to the schedule resulted in an almost universal choice to make that team a cupcake taken solely with the goal of enhancing bowl eligibility.
Because there are only so many pushover schools in the upper division, teams resorted to bribing I-AA schools to play them.
This backfired spectacularly in the case of Appalachian State's victory in Ann Arbor in 2006, and a big part of why the college football world was shocked was that the opening weekend is otherwise devoid of news.
Not only are lop-sided blowouts boring to read about, they are boring to watch. Happily, this year has already had some excellent games. I offer my thoughts in roughly chronological order.
NORTHWESTERN STUNS STANFORD: For years Northwestern was the punching bag of the Big Ten, but in the 1990s they rose up and became only the sometime punching back of the Big Ten (splitting reps with Indiana, Illinois and Purdue).
The Wildcats have often played the wildcard in the conference and after yesterday, they look a little more wild. Stanford, on the other hand, looked terrible. Most of Northwestern's yardage came on the ground, which is not a good sign for a team that prides itself on stopping the run. The Big Ten West just got more interesting.
HOOSIERS VANQUISH THE FEARED SALUKIS: So apparently Southern Illinois changed its mascot from "Maroon" to "Saluki" in the 50s because they wanted to be unique. Salukis are the royal dog of Egypt and southern Illinois has some folklore about being like Egypt. So there you are.
For a while it looked pretty grim for the Hoosiers, but they pulled out the win in front of an indifferent home crowd (at least that's what it sounded like on tv). Perhaps the best part was watching the BTN panel trying to find something nice about Indiana's performance. Gerry DiNardo boldly stepped up and offered praise for his old team and we give them this: Winning a close game against an obscure school is better than losing . The Hoosiers did their part.
PENN STATE BOWS BEFORE TEMPLE: Ah, the glorious traditions of college football. I've often said that the college game brings out the best and the worst in people. While the Walmart Wolverines have perverted the word 'tradition' to mean mindless trash-talking about games won by paid non-students against high school teams in the 1890s, it is still what makes the game more interesting than the NFL.
As every dispatch has reminded us, the Owls haven't beaten Penn State since 1941. Given the world war and the decades that followed, I can't imaging that a great many of the people at that game are still alive. That Temple was coached by a Penn State alum adds to the moment.
This doesn't mean the end of Penn State's season by any stretch, but it isn't a good sign.
WHO KNEW MORMONS VENERATED THE VIRGIN MARY? Speaking of streaks ending, BYU's literally last-second win over Nebraska was another great game to watch. In many ways it defined what is great about college football: Changing momentum, emotional ups and downs, unexpected twists as starters leave and unheralded backups earn a chance for glory or infamy. That game is going to be hard to top.
As a side note, BYU will destroy the Skunk Bears in a couple of weeks. And yes, that was one of the games I'd put them down as losing. More on that later.
LOU-UH-VILLE SCARES AUBURN: Another game of momentum changes that I unfortunately did not get to watch as closely as I would have liked, what will all the other drama. (This by the way is a great problem to have.) I know the SEC won some games yesterday, but can we put to rest the idiotic notion that they are somehow dominant?
NICK SABAN DEFENDS HIS HOME TURF: After all that, excitement, I was a little jaded by the time we go to the prime time match-ups. I figured Wisconsin would put of a fight, but honestly I'm getting a little tired of Nick Saban refusing to play in a Big Ten stadium. He backed out of the home-and-home with MSU and his idea of a "neutral venue" is one that is five times closer to his fan base than the opponent's.
And yet this guy is treated as some sort of genius. I'd love to see him bring that swagger to Madison or East Lansing, particularly in November. No doubt that's why he's staying as far away as possible. The taunts he'd pick up in East Lansing would be epic.
THE NOTRE DAME NETWORK HOSTS A SNOOZER: Yeah, I watched about five minutes of this. Between NBC's obnoxious fanboy coverage and fact that Texas is basically a shadow of its former self, it got boring so I turned it off.
AGGIES PLAY SUNDEVILS - AND I DIDN'T CARE: This was a decent game for a while but I was fading fast. Normally I'll go the full 12 hours on a football Saturday, but I'd already been up late on Thursday and Friday, it I called it a night.
Which brings us to the earlier games...
SPARTANS WIN PRACTICE MATCH, WMU ALMOST KILLS ITSELF: I give full credit to Western Michigan Coach P.J. Fleck, but the guy needs to tone it down a little. Yes, beating MSU would give a boost to his program and be an upset for the ages, but not at the cost of crippling one's team on the opening weekend.
This was also why hand-wringing on the part of the Spartans is a bit much. Yes, the secondary got lit up and at times the defense seemed to be phoning it in, but we must remember that it was extremely hot and humid, with cramping being a major concern. Also, there is that game against Oregon that people have been waiting a year for.
No one on the Spartan side wanted to get hurt running up the score on an already-beaten WMU.
And let there be no doubt about it, MSU was going easy. You could see this in the way that MSU responded as the Broncos closed the gap. Yes, I'd like to see them finish, but even the coaches knew this was basically an extended live practice.
The fact that Dantonio was rotating his running backs irrespective of their performance was a pretty clear indication that he wasn't about establishing dominance. The main event is next week.
ABOUT THURSDAY NIGHT: As I watched every sportswriter in Michigan (even those who had been praising Harbaugh the loudest) pick Utah to win, I admit I had my doubts. Usually these people are reliably wrong about everything.
However, this was one of those cases where a stopped clock was in fact giving the correct time.
This game would not have been as close as it was without two ill-timed and utterly inexcusable late hits from the Utes (the same player, whose name I will omit because I'm too lazy to look it up).
This one player basically spotted the Skunk Bears 10 points. And they still got crushed.
Looking ahead, Oregon State is transitioning to a spread offense but they appear to want to run the ball. I have this game as a tossup. On the one hand, Harbaugh-mania will be off the charts but a strong early performance will quiet the crowd used to seeing a home-field disaster.
I'm getting ahead of myself, but BYU having weathered the storm in Nebraska, will revel in pulling off another road win.