College football’s early season lends itself to overreaction. Every team is just a large group of teenagers and 21-year-olds that might disappoint everyone. And unlike other sports, this one has both preseason rankings that people take seriously and a lack of preseason games in which problems can be ironed out.
There’s no time in any sport more ripe for getting too high or too low than Week 1 in college football. So I submit this ranking, based on how rankings changed and how people responded at the time.
Honorable mention: Any opener in 2007 that made you feel any way about any team, because you turned out to be wrong.
10. 2011: #4 LSU 40, #3 Oregon 27
A slight overreaction, for how the losers were treated. The Ducks fell to #13 after hanging in there against one of the most talented teams in recent memory, the Tyrann Mathieu Tigers, who also had Odell Beckham Jr. and other future stars. The only team that ended up with a better scoring margin against LSU was national champ Alabama.
Oregon later drubbed #3 Stanford and won the Rose Bowl, suggesting it shouldn’t have fallen all that far for a relatively strong showing against LSU.
9. 2006: #11 Florida State 13, #12 Miami 10
- Two bitter rivals
- A couple of high preseason rankings
- Primetime ABC game on Labor Day at the Orange Bowl
- Both teams go 7-6.
8. 2009: #9 Oklahoma State 24, #13 Georgia 10
The Cowboys’ preseason #9 AP ranking was their highest ever. Then they went out and put a pretty hearty beating on the Dawgs, who’d won 21 games the previous two years.
OSU rose to #5 in the poll the next week, its highest mark since touching #3 in 1984. Then the Pokes lost at home to Conference USA’s Houston the next week, 45-35. Oklahoma later shut them out in Bedlam, 27-0. They lost by two touchdowns to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl, going 9-4 and scoring a combined seven points in their final two games.
For UGA’s part, the Dawgs finished 8-5 with losses to unranked Kentucky and Tennessee.
7: 2013: #6 South Carolina 27, North Carolina 10
Jadeveon Clowney sat out a bunch and only had three tackles. People acted like it was some disappointment that Steve Spurrier’s vaunted defense gave up a whole 10 points to what turned out to be a top-50 scoring offense. There were all kinds of worries about Clowney’s conditioning.
Clowney later said he had a stomach virus, but even if he didn’t, we shouldn’t have been worried that he took some time off in 93 degrees plus humidity. He was the most hyped player in the country heading into that season, the year after he’d delivered that hit at the Outback Bowl. The former #1 recruit was also playing for free as the likely #1 NFL pick.
His team would go 11-2 anyway.
I think a lot about that time everyone spent 9 months agreeing Jadeveon Clowney was the best player in the country, then 3 hours later agreed he was actually bad because he didn't play every snap in a 17-point win on a 91-degree day— Sharks with rabies (@JasonKirkSBN) July 25, 2019
6. 2018: Maryland 34, #23 Texas 29
This was the second year in a row to start Tom Herman’s tenure that the Longhorns were preseason-ranked 23rd and immediately lost to a Maryland that went on to miss a bowl game. Never forget that Texas scheduled a home-and-home with Maryland in football and went 0-2.
Following this embarrassing loss to an interim coach, the Longhorns fell out of the rankings, obviously. But they were all the way up to #18 by Week 5, and they wound up winning 10 games — the last of them the Sugar Bowl against a bizarrely overmatched Georgia.
5. 2016: #15 Houston 33, #3 Oklahoma 23
The Cougars vaulted to #6 in the AP Poll. Despite what we’ve since learned is the Playoff’s total objection to including mid-majors, a lot of people had the Cougars projected to go undefeated and make the field. The Sooners suddenly looked like pumpkins. That loss and another one to Ohio State did keep the Sooners out of the Playoff, though they still won the Sugar Bowl. But the main overreaction here was Houston, which flamed out with losses to Navy, SMU, and Memphis in the AAC and a blowout loss in the Las Vegas Bowl.
4. 2009: #14 Boise State 19, #16 Oregon 8
Matt’s not alone here:
After Boise State crushed Oregon in Chip Kelly's first game as head coach I posted something like Kelly is in way over his head. https://t.co/0OAdrwDEL5— Matt Hinton (@MattRHinton) August 24, 2018
Boise State would go 14-0 that season, while the Ducks would drop out of the AP Poll and not get back in until they beat two ranked teams at the end of September. The second of those wins was a 42-3 romp against then-#6 Cal, and it only got the Ducks back to 16th.
Was it really that much of a disgrace that the Ducks lost to a Boise State that was in the midst of a 50-3 run? They got over-punished for that ... or maybe for LeGarrette Blount punching a dude in the face right after the game.
3. 2017: #1 Alabama 24, #3 Florida State 7
More of an over pre-action, but it deserves a spot anyway. The Tide were #1 coming in, the Noles #3. By that metric and plenty of other subplots, it was the biggest season opener ever. Then the Tide knocked out FSU’s quarterback for the season late in a blowout, and FSU had to beat the likes of ULM and Delaware State (and get a friendly treatment from the NCAA) to even become bowl-eligible.
2.5. 2017: Texas A&M 38, UCLA 10 (first half only)
This was Texas A&M in the first half:
And this was a Texas A&M booster hours later, after UCLA came back to win:
I’m sure I may be criticized for this post but I honestly don’t care. I’ve been on the Board of Regents for the A&M System for almost seven years. During that time, I’ve not once commented on Kevin Sumlin and his performance during his tenure at our school. I never said a word when he and his agent manipulated a much bigger and longer contract. I said nothing about his arrogance and his mishandling of multiple player controversies. I said nothing when we had multiple awesome recruiting classes, only to see key players leave our school or underperform. But tonight I am very disappointed and I have to say this. Kevin Sumlin was out-coached tonight, which isn’t new. He recruits well, but can’t coach the big games, or the close games. Our players were better tonight. Our players were more talented tonight. But our coaches were dominated on national TV, yet again. I’m only one vote on the Board of Regents but when the time comes my vote will be that Kevin Sumlin needs to GO. In my view he should go now. We owe it to our school and our players. We can do better.
Share this as you see fit.
(The latter part was arguably not an overreaction.)
2. 2014: #21 Texas A&M 52, #9 South Carolina 28
Texas A&M rolled into Columbia with new quarterback Kenny Hill and lit the Gamecocks all the way up. Hill’s 511-yard passing day had the sport salivating over TAMU’s new Johnny Football. The Aggies took Carolina’s #9 spot in the next AP Poll.
They finished 8-5 and unranked, while South Carolina turned out to be a 7-6 mediocrity. But this was fun while it lasted! Bun B was out here assessing the nickname “Kenny Trill,” which stuck even after he faded at A&M and finished his career at TCU.
Like the idea of "Kenny Trill" but I think @coachsumlin would agree one good game alone doesn't make you trill. He's on his way though!— Bun B (@BunBTrillOG) September 2, 2014
1. 2016: Texas 50, #10 Notre Dame 47 (OT)
The Longhorns were coming off two sub-.500 seasons under Charlie Strong. They were playing the #10 Irish. When Tyrone Swoopes dove into the end zone for the winning score in overtime, Joe Tessitore’s call reverberated around the country:
"TEXAS IS BACK, FOLKS!"— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 5, 2016
- The Horns went from unranked to #11.
- Texas finished 5-7, including a loss to Kansas.
- Strong got fired.
- TEXAS IS BACK became a meme that might live forever.
- And Notre Dame went 4-8, making it unimpressive that Texas needed overtime to win this one in the first place.
What do you think?
And what if we open this up to previous decades as well?