Week zero is in the books and we’re back with the first of our weekly “winners & losers” columns.
Quite frankly, the biggest winner this week could have just been us, the viewer. There’s fans back in the stands, drama on the field and Saturday nights are exciting again!
Despite the small slate of games, there was more than enough action to consume and thankfully for us, a lot of talking points for us to breakdown in this piece. So, let’s dive in…
WINNERS (Andy – @ajmoore21)
The Illinois Fighting Illini & Bret Bielema
The bookies had Nebraska as a three point favourite entering the Big Ten matchup between the Cornhuskers and Illinois, but in his first game as the Fighting Illini Head Coach, Bret Bielema was having none of that.
Despite starting Quarterback, Brandon Peters, picking up an injury in the first quarter, the Illini were consistent throughout the game, leaning upon a strong defensive performance to shut down Adrian Martinez and the Nebraska offense when it mattered. Backup QB, Artur Sitkowski, showed why the Miami Hurricanes were so high on him as a prospect, going 12 of 15 for 124 yards and two touchdowns – his best pass was a bomb down the sideline to Deuce Spann.
But it was the defense that won this game for the Fighting Illini. After Mike Epstein’s rushing TD tied the score at nine apiece just before the half, the Illinois defense took to the field in an attempt to stifle Nebraska and get back into the locker room. Instead, Keith Randolph got to Martinez in the backfield, knocking the ball free and paving the way for NC State transfer, CJ Hart Jr, to recover the ball and take it 42 yards to the house. Then, up eight points with less than a minute on the clock, the Illini forced the turnover on downs and sealed a memorable win for Bielema on his return to the college game.
The UCLA Run Game
It didn’t take long for UCLA to state their intentions in their Saturday afternoon matchup with the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. In the first half of the game they scored four touchdowns, all via the run game, with Michigan transfer Zach Charbonnet grabbing three of those.
Charbonnet is an interesting case, a former four-star recruit who enjoyed a productive freshman season in Ann Arbor, he opted for a transfer this off-season rather than stay and compete with Hassan Haskins for the Michigan starting gig. That move looks like it may pay off after a dominant start to the season, but he’ll want a more consistent role in the offense. Charbonnet rushed for 106 yards on six carries, allowing 23 year old Brittain Brown to take the majority of the carries (13) for 78 yards and a score.
Of course, none of that would have been possible without a dominant performance by the Bruins’ offensive line. Both Offensive Tackles enjoyed a dominant game, with Alec Anderson sealing the edge for two of Charbonnet’s touchdown runs, and Sean Rhyan proving why he’s getting a lot of draft hype by not allowing a pressure all afternoon. The two standout Tackles will face a different calibre of opponent next week in LSU, but it’s clear that Chip Kelly’s offense will revolve around the ability to run the ball often and always.
Nick Starkel, QB, San Jose State
Nick Starkel has been around the block in his collegiate career, the 23 year old has started for Texas A&M, Arkansas and is now in his second season as the starter for San Jose State. You don’t get to start for two SEC teams if you’re a bad quarterback, but it’s fair to say that consistency is the main thing that has held Starkel’s career back to date.
In a nice matchup with Southern Utah, the former three-star recruit showed off all the tools which allowed him to start five games for the Aggies in 2017. Starkel was calm in the pocket, letting rip with his huge arm on several occasions and throwing his receivers open for two long touchdowns in the first half.
A pick six put a slightly sour note on the performance, but Starkel wrapped up a productive, 394 yard night with a nice shot to hulking Tight End, Derrick Deese Jr, in the corner of the end zone. There’s a strong likelihood that the super-senior QB latches onto to an NFL roster as a camp arm next year (before being cut), so we might yet hear more of him come April ‘22…
LOSERS (Lee – @Wakefield90)
The UCLA Passing Game
As much as I agree with Andy above in what he has said about the UCLA running game – It was tremendous – The UCLA passing attack had a less than stellar start to the season.
Dorian Thompson-Robinson is a QB with a fair weight of expectation on him – Head Coach, Chip Kelly’s job may even depend on the Senior QB. Not to mention the hopes of an UCLA team who are being widely considered a dark horse in the Pac-12 South, including by some of our team here at F10Y. DTR himself is also considered a dark horse candidate to be that QB who rockets up the draft boards through the course of this season.
So with that in mind, this was a less than ideal start. Obviously, UCLA won and won handsomely but DTR didn’t look comfortable out there. Early on he was sailing passes high of their target – Early on, this could be put down to early game/season jitters, but the inaccuracy continued throughout the game and he finished with a 50% completion rate (10 of 20) and he didn’t exactly accumulate yards whilst doing so (130 passing yards and a touchdown).
LSU is next for the Bruins so we’ll see if Thompson-Robinson can elevate his play next week, or if he’s going to be a lead weight that drags this team down.
Scott Frost, Nebraska Head Coach
Due to his achievements at UCF Scott Frost’s appointment as Head Coach was greeted with a lot of optimism around Lincoln, but three years and three straight 5th place finishes in the Big Ten West later, the hot seat is beginning to heat up.
In 2017, in his final year at UCF, the Knights went unbeaten in the regular season, won the American Athletic Conference title, won the Peach Bowl, declared themselves “National Champions” and were the darlings of just about everyone but the Playoff selection committee (despite all of the above, the Knights were only ranked #6 in the AP poll).
UCF won 13 games and lost 0 in 2017.
Since taking over as Nebraska Head Coach, Scott Frost has won 12 games.
The season opener on the road to Illinois was winnable but Nebraska and QB Adrian Martinez, who also could have made it into this column, just aren’t getting it done. Martinez was a four-star commit who has been wedded to Frost since 2018. Nebraska’s schedule is tough the rest of the way with games against Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa to go – Will it get much better? Well throw in the ongoing NCAA investigation and we’re likely to say well, probably not.
Fans who were expecting shocks
Again I agree with Andy that it was fantastic to have college football back in our lives but with this reduced slate of games the likelihood of shocks was reduced and we weren’t treated to any at all.
We have spoken on the pod about how much we want there to be more shocks and parity in college football but this weekend there were none at all. So we were disappointed with his score with all but the Nebraska @ Illinois one-sided wins, with some really dominant performances from certain players and/or units.
Will UCONN and New Mexico State have the misery filled year that it seems after week 0? We probably shouldn’t be expecting shock results out of either of these programmes, if we’re being honest, so maybe this week wasn’t the week for shocks but this will be something we’ll be rooting for throughout the season.
I’ll be looking out for how Fresno State does against Oregon next week and also, considering how I feel Texas is in for a bumpy ride, I’ll be looking out for their result over the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.
Follow Andy on Twitter – @Ajmoore21
Follow Lee on Twitter – @Wakefield90