FSU exhales, but can't exactly relax



What did we learn from Week 1 of the season?

Everything ... and nothing.

We learned that Florida State isn't immune to the same disease that commonly infects defending national champions: Acute Pressur-itis.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher admitted as much after the Seminoles' semi-joyless 37-31 win against 18-point underdog Oklahoma State at JerryWorld. He said his team felt the pressure of being ranked No. 1 -- and all that comes with trying to win elusive back-to-back national titles.

"Now I think we can relax and go play football," Fisher said.

That's nice. It's also wishful thinking.

Sure, Florida State will be able to relax at home this Saturday against FCS member The Citadel. Quarterback Jameis Winston can get a mani/pedi while the third-stringers dispose of the Bulldogs. And after the blowout win, everybody can kid themselves into thinking FSU is good to go for the remainder of the season.

But truth is, as the regular season stretches its legs and the Seminoles face Clemson, Notre Dame, travel to Louisville and Miami, and finish with Florida, the Seminoles' nerve will be tested again and again. They will get every opponent's best shot -- just like the solid punches Oklahoma State landed a couple of nights ago.

The Cowboys could have beaten FSU. They didn't, which speaks to the Seminoles' resolve, but they could have. And that reality has to be an unnerving thought for Fisher and Florida State fans.

Fisher knows how hard it's going to be to win consecutive championships. He saw what happened to Alabama (and his coaching buddy Nick Saban) last season as the Crimson Tide were undone by complacency and expectations. If it can happen to a Saban-coached team, it can happen to anybody.

FSU has the most talent, but it also has the most pressure to win. And that pressure already affected the Seminoles in the first week of the season. What will it be like by Sept. 20 (Clemson), Oct. 18 (Notre Dame), Oct. 30 (at Louisville), Nov. 15 (at Miami) and Nov. 29 (Florida)? And those are just the obvious games that could test FSU.

Early on against Oklahoma State, the Noles played like a team that thought the Cowboys ought to genuflect at FSU's mere presence. Jameis almost became famous for starting the season 0-1.

But give FSU credit -- lots of it -- for winning when it didn't have its best stuff. The Seminoles got away with it against Oklahoma State. But that won't last for an entire season.

Relax? Those days are finished.


Yes, it's only one week. Late Saturday night, ESPN's Lou Holtz begged everyone not to overreact and compared the new season to a baby being born. Translation: Nobody knows how the little whippersnapper is going to look by Jan. 12, 2015 -- the date of the first-ever College Football Playoff championship game.

OK, fair enough. But Week 1 offered some hints of things to come. So time to play, "Worry ... Don't Worry."

• North Carolina, my cool, sleeper, "Don't-I-Know-Everything" pick for 2014, trailed Liberty (another FCS member) early in the third quarter of Saturday's game at Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels, who were without four suspended defensive players, eventually pulled away to win, 56-29.

Verdict: Don't Worry.

• Northwestern has lots of returning starters, opened its season at home against underdog Cal (1-11 a year ago, zero FBS wins) ... and lost. The Wildcats trailed by 24 points in the third quarter before at least making it a game. But anybody who thinks Northwestern doesn't miss seniors Venric Mark (whose stunning decision to transfer leaves a playmaker void) and Christian Jones (the wide receiver suffered a season-ending knee injury several weeks ago), is in denial.

Verdict: Worry.

• Alabama, favored by 25½ over West Virginia, had to sweat out a 33-23 victory over the Mountaineers. Much has been made about the in-game sideline interaction between Saban and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. What, Saban was going to sit on a chaise lounge and read a Daniel Silva espionage novel? Anyway, the Tide eventually remembered how to overpower an opponent (288 rushing yards), got some helpful calls from the refs, and fifth-year senior Blake Sims, making his starting debut, had only a handful of shaky moments. This Kiffin/Saban thing is going to work out fine. Meanwhile, Bama's defense didn't inspire confidence, but I'm buying long on the Tide secondary.

Verdict: Don't Worry.

• UCLA's offense, with Heisman candidate Brett Hundley at quarterback, had a few train-wreck episodes in the eight-point win at Virginia. That's not fatal against UVA and this week against Memphis. But the Sept. 13 game at Texas? Hmmm.

Verdict: Don't Worry.

• There's no nice way to say it: Against Texas A&M, South Carolina was to defense as Karaoke Night is to the Metropolitan Opera.

Verdict: Worry.

• Texas Tech trailed against Central Arkansas in the second quarter and had to hang on for a 42-35 victory. The Red Raiders defense gave up 406 total yards.

Verdict: Worry.

• Ohio State's defense gave up 370 rushing yards to Navy. That's not a misprint. Then again, Navy's triple-option attack does that a lot.

Verdict: Don't worry.


As he witnessed the carnage of Texas A&M's 52-28 woodshed victory at South Carolina, Steve Spurrier looked like he wanted to do a Josh Shaw and jump off a second-floor balcony. The good news for Gamecocks' fans: Spurrier did win the headset-throwing competition.

South Carolina's defense will get better, mostly because there's no way it could get worse. But if ever a team looked instantly vulnerable, it is the Gamecocks, who began last Thursday evening as 33/1 favorites to win the CFP, but ended the night looking like 300/1 longshots to win the Sun Belt.

Stuff happens, but usually not all at once to a Spurrier-coached team. The Gamecocks were outplayed, outcoached, outsized ... out-everythinged. They'll get a get-well card delivered by East Carolina this Saturday, but then face SEC East favorite Georgia (the Bulldogs get two weeks to prepare) on Sept. 13.

Meanwhile, the Aggies just got in the HOV lane for a 4-0 start (Lamar at home this week, then Rice, then at SMU before facing Arkansas at Kyle Field). Kenny Hill Mania is in full, breathless Brangelina-wedding mode ("Kenny Football" ... "Johnny Who?" ... "Hill For Heisman").

It was one game against a surprisingly befuddled South Carolina defense, but suddenly those Johnny Manziel withdrawal pains for A&M don't seem too bad. And since when did the Aggies corner the market on 6-foot-5, 225-pound wide receivers? It's like there's a Mike Evans clone factory in College Station.

Hill had the game of his A&M career, and it came without any money pinches or off-field drama. In his first career start, Hill completed 44 of 60 passes for 511 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. If you're keeping count, that surpasses Manziel's single-game passing record. In fact, it's better than Manziel's total preseason numbers with the Cleveland Browns (30-of-59 for 296 yards, two touchdowns, one fumble).

And while we're at it, maybe it's time to give Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin some retroactive credit for his offensive expertise. Manziel was an extraordinary college player, but the Sumlin Effect became more obvious as Hill picked apart the Gamecocks.


In: Georgia's Todd Gurley (and third-teamer Nick Chubb), Bama's T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, A&M's Hill, Les Miles' sense of timing (his fake punt call flipped the momentum against Wisconsin), Charlie Strong's Texas debut, James Franklin's Penn State debut, player suspensions (too many to list), Youth. Tennessee played 21 true freshmen in the win against Utah State, Alabama field goal kicking (where was that in the 2013 Iron Bowl?), USC's resiliency, karma streaks (dating back to last mid-September, Baylor's McLane Stadium, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, retribution (Nebraska gained 784 yards in the 55-7 win against Florida Atlantic -- the same FAU that pressured Carl Pelini, brother of Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini, to resign last year), more retribution (Michigan 52, Appalachian State 14), LSU (with the win against Bucky, the Tigers now have 46 consecutive victories against non-conference opponents), North Dakota State (another win over an FBS program, this time Iowa State), Florida Atlantic's savings account ($1 million guarantee for playing Nebraska, $1 million guarantee for playing Bama this week), welcome backs (Notre Dame's Everett Golson and Auburn's Nick Marshall), and hellos (Ohio State's J.T. Barrett), rain outs (Idaho-Florida) and rain delays (Auburn-Arkansas).

Out: Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (only four carries in the second half -- huh?), Wisconsin's CFP chances (Final Four teams don't blow 24-7 third-quarter leads, do they?), an on-field shimmy by Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone (please don't do that anymore), the preseason hysteria (guilty) surrounding LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette (eight carries for 18 yards vs. Wisconsin), face-punching (hello, Syracuse's Terrel Hunt), Navy's "Summer Whites" helmets (they look a little like California Highway Patrol motorcycle helmets), the debut of Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason (37-7 loser to Temple), "Anchor Down" Vandy jerseys, and preseason predictions.


There are lovely moments in college football that remind you of the strength of character required to survive the game. Exhibit A-Z: Penn State place-kicker Sam Ficken.

In 2012, Ficken missed four of five field goals, including the last-second, potential game-winner, and had an extra-point attempt blocked in a 17-16 loss at Virginia. He was immediately bombarded by an onslaught of knucklehead social media hatred. A lesser player would have walked away from Penn State and the game.

Ficken persevered. And Saturday, in faraway Dublin, Ficken's 36-yard field goal as time expired gave Penn State a 26-24 victory against UCF.


Four North Carolina players were suspended for the Tar Heels' opener, which just happens to coincide with a UNC investigation into an alleged hazing incident (as first reported by Yahoo Sports).

It would be nice to report that the ugly Richie Incognito/ Jonathan Martin hazing controversy of a season ago would have ended such nonsense. But stupidity, on the NFL or college level, doesn't have an expiration date.

North Carolina is addressing the situation. In fact, college coaches around the country still have their antennae up when it comes to hazing and prehistoric locker room culture.

"That whole situation in Miami made me uncomfortable," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "It confirmed my idea that you've got to stay on top of that."

Riley -- and undoubtedly other major college coaches -- reacted to the Miami Dolphins situation of 2013. And the North Carolina allegations of hazing will be another reminder of how quickly things can go wrong (a Tar Heel player was allegedly concussed during the incident).

"I think the only answer to that is constant education," Riley said. "I heard [legendary college and NFL coach] Bill Walsh talk once about it. He laid out the ground rules of what the organization is about in the very first meeting of the year. Then it was a matter of continuing to come back to it during the course of the year.

"We have the new players stand up and introduce themselves. That is the beginning and the end of the their introduction. There is no 'education,' no initiation and no hazing."


And the Heisman goes to ... Georgia's Gurley. His dreadlocks could outrun Clemson.

Also in attendance for the presentation ceremony: Oregon's Marcus Mariota, A&M's Hill, FSU's Winston, Nebraska's Abdullah and Baylor's Bryce Petty.

In a parallel universe where all the other Heisman candidates join the Peace Corps: Oklahoma State's Tyreek Hill (Hill is so fast that he left contrails while gaining 278 all-purpose yards against Florida State).


Top 10

1. Georgia

UGA gets two weeks to prepare for road trip to South Carolina. No wonder the Bulldogs have drool marks.

2. Oklahoma

OU opponent Tulsa needed double overtime to beat Tulane. The Golden Hurricane won't have to worry about free football in this one.

3. Florida State

Seminoles are too talented not to recover from their opening night struggles.

4. LSU

Say a prayer for Sam Houston State.

5. Alabama

See above, but insert Florida Atlantic.

6. Baylor

See above, but insert Northwestern State.

7. Michigan State and Oregon

Hey, an actual game that matters! Sparty travels to Oregon!

9. Auburn

Hey, another game that doesn't matter! Tigers vs. San Jose State.

10. USC and Texas A&M

Well, this will be interesting: Trojans at Stanford. And this won't be interesting: Aggies at home against Lamar.

Waiting list: Ohio State, Ole Miss, Stanford, Nebraska and Notre Dame.


Who's in ... the CFP final four:

Georgia vs. LSU -- The Mad Hatter instructs his Tigers to execute a fake coin flip.

Oklahoma vs. Florida State -- For what it's worth, OU's Bob Stoops is 2-0 against Jimbo Fisher and FSU.