It’s Friday night football in the ACC as Oklahoma takes on Tulane. The No. 10-ranked Tar Heels coming into the 2021 season with high expectations and a blue-chip quarterback in the form of Sam Howell, who is expected to be one of the top picks of the 2022 NFL Draft. Friday’s season opener will give fans the first chance to see whether Howell can live up to his billing as one of football’s next great passers. The Hokies, on the other hand, have fall toward the back of the pack in the ACC. VT was blanked in the AP rankings and only received votes in this year’s coaches poll.
The first Thursday of the 2021 college football season included a buffet of games featuring teams from four of the five major conferences along with one of the highest-profile Group of Five games of the year.
After an extended lightning delay, Central Florida hosted Boise State in the sort of matchup that may linger into December and influence how the College Football Playoff selection committee fills out the New Year's Six bowls.
Thursday night also saw the debut of Tennessee coach Josh Heupel, our first look at heavy Big Ten favorite Ohio State — it wasn't always easy for the Buckeyes — and a glimpse of Utah, a dark horse in the Pac-12.
Here are the winners and losers as Week 1 got underway:
The lesson for Ohio State can be shared with Alabama and Clemson. It's not so easy to roll out of bed with a first-year starting quarterback and go up against a quality opponent without a hiccup along the way. For the Buckeyes, the starting debut of C.J. Stroud was an early struggle: OSU beat Minnesota 45-31 but trailed twice, including a 21-17 deficit more than midway through the third quarter. Stroud, the replacement for Justin Fields, rebounded from a sluggish start to go for 294 yards and four scores, though his receivers did most of the heavy lifting. Meanwhile, the Crimson Tide and new quarterback Bryce Young get ready for a Week 1 matchup with Miami, while Clemson and DJ Uiagalelei do the same with Georgia.
Is N.C. State a legitimate threat to Clemson in the Atlantic division of the ACC? What about a real contender to win nine or more games during the regular season and find a permanent home in the USA TODAY Sports AFCA Coaches Poll? Thursday's 45-0 slaughter of woeful South Florida doesn't do much to influence the narrative surrounding the Wolfpack, who are clearly talented enough to go places but will need consistency from quarterback Devin Leary to take the next step. Leary finished with 232 yards and two scores with an interception.
The Heupel era at Tennessee was christened with a 38-6 win against Bowling Green, one of the weakest teams in the MAC. But that doesn't matter: UT is 1-0 under Heupel. After three solid seasons at Central Florida, Heupel was expected to put a jolt into the Volunteers' sleepy offense — and that group looked fine at times, though not effective enough through the air behind new quarterback Joe Milton to resemble the sort of balanced attack that might give a handful of teams in the SEC some trouble. UT did go for 326 yards on the ground, the program's most in a game since Sept. 15, 2018.
No. 24 Coastal Carolina opened with an easy 52-14 win against The Citadel, a predictably lopsided result that begins the Chanticleers' quest to repeat atop the Sun Belt and factor into the race for the New Year's Six. It's also a tune-up for next week's home game against Kansas, if you believe the Jayhawks are any better than The Citadel. (They are, but not by a whole lot.)
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