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Thursday, September 4, 2008

5 Things We Learned from Week 1 in College Football

Five Things We Learned
By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
I realize the weekend's not over yet, but hey -- this thing's a Sunday tradition.

1. That the ACC will not surrender its punch-line status. Another year, another glorious start for the nation's wannabe superconference. It began Thursday night with N.C. State's nationally televised 34-0 shellacking at the hands of South Carolina and continued Saturday with Virginia Tech (11-3 a year ago) falling to East Carolina, Virginia (9-4) losing 52-7 at home to USC and of course league favorite Clemson laying a colossal egg against Alabama in front of a national, prime-time audience.
However, the biggest blunder in ACC country Saturday took place in the sky. A pair of parachuters who were slated to deliver the game ball for North Carolina's opener against McNeese State inadvertently landed eight miles away -- at Duke's stadium. "In about five years," said concerned UNC associate AD Rick Steinbacher, "maybe this will be funny."
Oh no -- it's plenty funny right now.
2. That Alabama may have the next Glenn Dorsey on its hands. Tide fans spent the offseason drooling in anticipation over the arrival of freshman WR Julio Jones, and while Jones did not disappoint in his debut, the truly astonishing newcomer was defensive tackle Terrence Cody. Clemson's offensive line had no answer for the freakish 6-foot-5, 365-pound junior college transfer, who could be seen storming into the Tigers' backfield over and over. Clemson's vaunted rushing attack netted zero -- yes, zero -- total yards.
With such a rare combination of size and speed, Cody -- who, as legend has it, began the year nearly 30 pounds heavier yet could be seen on the basketball court "dunking and doing 360s with the ball," Tide center Antoine Caldwell said this summer -- looks like the same kind of one-man wrecking crew as the former LSU star. Foes will have no choice to double or triple-team him, which, in 'Bama's 3-4 scheme, frees up all kinds of gaps for the linebackers.
3. That Mark Sanchez will be just fine, thank you. Technically, Sanchez was not a first-time starter -- he filled in for the injured John David Booty in three games last season - but Saturday's Virginia game was the junior's first as "the man" for USC. All he did was torch the Cavaliers for 338 yards and three touchdowns on 26-of-35 passing.
The most encouraging aspect of Sanchez's performance was that it included several deep balls to his receivers (albeit mostly after USC had built a comfortable first-half lead), an area in which the Trojans were sorely lacking last season. He hit Ronald Johnson for a 49-yard touchdown and Patrick Turner for a 42-yard gain, while Arkansas transfer Damian Williams finished as USC's leading receiver (seven catches, 91 yards). One word: Scary.
4. That I picked the wrong Pac-10 surprise team. There's nothing like sticking your neck on the line, putting your faith in a team that nobody else deemed remotely fit to be ranked in the Top 25 -- then watch that team lose its opening game to Stanford. Thanks, Beavers.
But it may well be that losing to Stanford is longer the indignity it once was. The buzz over the offseason was that Jim Harbaugh's team is steadily improving, and it's been a long, long time since the Cardinal ran the ball the way they did Thursday night. Toby Gerhart, who gained 140 yards in his lone performance last season prior to suffering a season-ending knee injury, carried 19 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns. If he and the offensive line keep it up, look for Stanford to reach its first bowl game since 2001.
5. That the injury gods are not smiling on Georgia. If this is to be the storybook, national-title season Dawgs fans have been dreaming about since January, they're going to have to defy one of the sport's long-held assumptions: That the breaks have to go your way. Having already lost starting left tackle Trinton Sturdivant for the year with a preseason ACL tear, the nation's No. 1 team watched starting DT and senior leader Jeff Owens go down with his own knee injury a quarter into the Dawgs' season opener against Georgia Southern. While an MRI is still pending, the Atlanta Journal Constitution says Owens is likely out for the season.
While Owens was a productive player, Georgia is fairly stacked at defensive line. Still, this is hardly the type of stuff you associate with dream seasons, especially for a team that is already facing the nation's most daunting schedule.
Of course, Owens' injury may wind up seeming like a drop in the hat compared to the injury vigil currently taking place with the nation's No. 2 team.

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