A lot can happen in a month. Stars emerge, hopes disappear. Heck, William Henry Harrison’s entire presidential tenure was just 31 days. And here we are, one month into college football, with one-third of the season already in the books, and while it feels like we’ve just gotten started, we’ve learned a lot. Although this first month might amount to little more than Harrison’s presidency in the long run, it’s worth taking a step back after four weeks of action and figuring out what we know, where we’ve been wrong and what’s left to figure out.
Oh my god, Alabama got better
In some ways, seeing Alabama now, with Tua Tagovailoa at QB and an offense that looks as dynamic as any in the country, it’s fair to marvel at how Nick Saban has been so routinely successful without a superstar QB. Of course, the real concern should be how in the heck is anyone going to beat him now? The Tide are 4-0, have won every game by at least three touchdowns and offensively are off to their best start since Saban arrived in 2007. Tagovailoa is arguably the Heisman favorite now, and Alabama has a vertical element to its passing attack that should terrify opposing defenses. Through four games, the Tide have 16 TD passes. Saban’s teams averaged just seven TD throws through four games in his prior 11 seasons at Alabama. Yikes.
But so did Alabama’s competition
The top five teams when last season ended: Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson and Ohio State. (With an obligatory nod to UCF, which certainly had its own case.) The top five teams after four weeks this season: Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson and Ohio State. (With another nod to UCF, which once again has its own case.) There have already been some big upsets this year — ODU over Virginia Tech, Arizona State over Michigan State, BYU over Wisconsin — but until one of the big dogs at the top goes down, the real chaos hasn’t started.
New QBs, no problems
Ohio State and Oklahoma both waved goodbye to quarterbacks who combined to win 71 starts, account for 285 career touchdowns and make the College Football Playoff four times, so you’d think they might miss J.T. Barrett and Baker Mayfield. So far, though, the Buckeyes and Sooners haven’t missed a beat, and Dwayne Haskins (17 TDs, 1 turnover) and Kyler Murray (14 TDs, 2 turnovers) are both undefeated and squarely in the Heisman Trophy conversation.
Two QBs are better than one
Alabama, Notre Dame, Georgia, Clemson, Miami — all playoff contenders, all employing multiple quarterbacks to some degree. At Alabama and Georgia, it has been more about keeping two talented QBs happy, but there’s a clear starter. At Clemson, Trevor Lawrence and Kelly Bryant have split time pretty evenly, and Dabo Swinney still isn’t interested in narrowing the field. At Notre Dame and Miami, shaky starts on offense might mean a full-time spot on the bench for the incumbents after Ian Book and N’Kosi Perry had terrific games in Week 4. A little QB controversy is certainly no surprise in any season, but that such controversy has surrounded so many top teams makes 2018 an outlier, and the carousel might not be finished turning yet.
No quick fixes for new coaches
Eighteen teams hired coaches this offseason from outside their programs, turning the page on the past and looking for fresh starts. So far, it hasn’t gone well. Those 18 teams are a combined 14-41 against FBS opponents and just 4-23 against Power 5 foes, getting outscored by an average of 19 points per game in those contests. Half of those Power 5 wins came against other first-year coaches too. At Florida State, Nebraska, Arizona and UCLA, there are already rumblings from fans that, perhaps, the program made a bad choice. That’s crazy to say after just four games, but there’s less patience than ever for high-profile coaches on high-dollar salaries, and 2018 has not been kind so far.
Basketball schools are good at football too
Kentucky, Syracuse and Duke aren’t exactly known as challengers for New Year’s Six bowls. Combined, they’ve finished a season in the top 25 just twice in the 2000s. But after the Orange toppled Florida State in Week 3, Kentucky upended Mississippi State in Week 4 and the Blue Devils won consecutive road games against Northwestern and Baylor, the three supposed basketball schools are a combined 12-0. How crazy is that? Kentucky’s win over the Bulldogs was its first over a top-15 opponent in more than a decade. Syracuse hadn’t started 4-0 since 1991. From 1990 through 2011, Duke had just two seasons in which it won more than four games.
This is the first time Duke and Kentucky have been ranked in the same football AP poll since the Sept. 14, 1957 poll.
They have been ranked in the same basketball AP poll 547 teams in that span.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 23, 2018
We should get to know some under-the-radar stars
You’re forgiven if Memphis’ Darrell Henderson wasn’t on your Heisman watch list to start the season, but make sure you’re paying attention the rest of the way. The junior has 903 all-purpose yards through four games — 111 more than any other player in the country. Same goes for Purdue freshman Rondale Moore, who is one of just four players in the country with at least 100 yards rushing, receiving and on returns. And don’t ignore Texas Tech QB Alan Bowman, who is averaging 390 passing yards per game, or Hawaii’s Cole McDonald, who has racked up 22 touchdowns and just two turnovers so far.
Special teams are fun
We’ve seen the exceptional, with USF’s Terrence Horne returning two kickoffs for touchdowns in one quarter against Georgia Tech. We’ve seen the sublime, with North Texas’ Keegan Brewer faking a fair catch against Arkansas, only to sprint for a score after the Razorbacks let down their guard. And we’ve seen the outright confounding, with Wake Forest lining up for a field goal try against Notre Dame without a kicker.
North Texas punt returner Keegan Brewer pretends that he called a fair catch, then takes it to the house.
Freshman kicker Nick Sciba rushes onto the field after forgetting to set up for the Demon Deacons’ field goal attempt and shanks the kick off the left upright.
Dan Mullen is a bad dancer
Mullen’s sideline sashay was a bit of an embarrassment, but as long as he keeps rolling past Tennessee, Gators fans will forgive.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 2, 2018
Kansas won two games — in a row!
The Jayhawks might not win another game this year, but who cares? After a decade of misery, Kansas finally won on the road and toppled consecutive FBS opponents. It’s nice to see good things happen to bad football programs.
There’s a lot we don’t know
Is LSU a playoff contender? The Tigers have beaten two top-10 teams, but their offense still looks mediocre, even on good days. Is Michigan a threat to win the Big Ten? The Wolverines lost the opener to Notre Dame, but since falling behind 14-0 in that game, they’ve outscored the opposition 167-43. Is Texas back? Is Texas Tech’s defense good enough to win the Big 12? Are Penn State, West Virginia and NC State contenders or products of a weak early slate? Four games can tell us only so much.
Seriously, there’s a lot we don’t know
Raise your hands if you had Buffalo, Cal, Cincinnati, Colorado, Duke, North Texas and Syracuse among the 21 remaining unbeaten teams. Now remember, we have nine weeks to go, and lots of other things we don’t see coming are bound to happen.
Coaches are still quotable
Chip Kelly said his only regret after a blowout loss to Oklahoma was that the Oakland A’s, who drafted Kyler Murray in the first round, hadn’t paid him more to quit football. Scott Frost lamented that Nebraska had hit rock-bottom. David Cutcliffe waxed poetic about making hotel reservations based on Waffle House proximity. Nick Saban begged reporters to criticize his team. It has been a quotable year already, and we’re just getting started.