Last week, I wrote about the negative impact that the 2017-18 UCF Knights had on my overall college football experience.
In that column, I wrote, among other things, that I doubt I’ll ever recover from their eye-opening run that was tainted by the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s Power 5 bias. Until something changes, I said, I can’t look at college football the same way again.
But, as Week 1 of the college football season kicked off this past weekend, I watched.
And let me be the first to tell you: It didn’t disappoint.
From Wednesday evening to Monday night, it was pretty much wall-to-wall football that included shocking upsets, tear-jerking comebacks, wacky post-game quotes and impressive performances.
It was college football at its finest. And I’m sorry I ever doubted it. (Even though the postseason format remains one of the worst things in American sports. I firmly stand by that.)
If you somehow missed it because you were enjoying your Labor Day weekend being productive or spending time with your family, let me run down a few of my personal favorite moments from the weekend — some good, some bad — in college football’s exhilarating return.
1. We need to keep an eye on South Bend
On Sunday night, in the final star-studded matchup of the week, the 9th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish outlasted the unranked Florida State Seminoles with a field goal in overtime, 41-38, after the Seminoles’ 18-point fourth-quarter comeback saw them tie it with a 43-yard field goal with 45 seconds left in the game.
However, as great as it was to see Notre Dame’s lead crumble, only to save their season at the last second, nothing compares to what happened afterwards.
As Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly was being interviewed on the field by Katie George on ABC after the narrow victory, he had this to say: “I’m in favor of execution. Maybe our entire team needs to be executed after tonight.”
Yikes. Kelly’s quote, he explained in his post-game press conference, was a one-liner from Hall of Fame USC and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach John McKay, who became famous for his quips, with this one being no different after using it following a Buccaneers loss in the late 1970s.
Social media undoubtedly blew up with everyone having an opinion on Kelly’s distasteful quote, but with it being a failed attempt at humor — and clearly nothing to be taken seriously — he gets a pass from me. I uncomfortably chuckled right along with him the first time I heard it.
2. McKenzie Milton’s both an awesome quarterback and a true inspiration
Sticking with the Fighting Irish-Seminoles contest, while it might have ended with a Notre Dame win, Florida State backup quarterback McKenzie Milton stole the show on Sunday night.
After FSU quarterback Jordan Travis was knocked out of the game following a hard hit that knocked his helmet off, Milton emerged from the sideline, leading the Seminoles on two drives to end regulation, the first resulting in a touchdown and the second in the game-tying field goal.
The crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium erupted after Milton threw his first pass — a 22-yard strike to Ja’Khi Douglas — in more than 1,000 days.
Milton was the beloved quarterback for those undefeated UCF Knights in both 2017 and 2018, but on Nov. 23, 2018, he suffered a devastating right leg/knee injury against South Florida that would end his UCF career, force him into nearly three years of rehab and threaten to amputate his leg entirely.
Now, Milton is back as a grad transfer for the Seminoles and his resilience, courage and fight to even get to where he could walk again, much less play football, is a Hall-of-Fame-worthy story in itself.
3. Clemson can’t run with the big Dawgs
There were few results more shocking — and, in a way, pathetic — than No. 5 Georgia’s 10-3 win over No. 3 Clemson on Saturday in the teams’ season-opener.
While the idea of the Bulldogs defeating the Tigers was entirely imaginable, the way it happened wasn’t.
Georgia pulled off a defensive masterclass in its performance on Saturday night, holding Clemson to just a field goal and scoring the game’s lone touchdown on a 74-yard interception return by Christopher Smith in the first half.
The Bulldogs’ dominance didn’t end there, however, as the defensive line sacked Tigers quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei seven times and held Clemson to just 2 rushing yards.
You read that right: 2 yards.
In 60 minutes of game time, four whole quarters and 23 attempts, the Tigers were held to single-digit rushing yards in a game that illustrated both Georgia’s defensive prowess and Clemson’s desperation for a competent run game.
It lends the question: Without Trevor Lawrence, have the Mighty Tigers finally fallen?
4. Tar Heels among few unranked-over-ranked upsets
By the conclusion of last Friday, it wasn’t necessarily a great day to be a Tar Heel.
In No. 10 UNC’s first game as a preseason top-10 team since being ranked 7th in the preseason in 1997, the Tar Heels mustered just 10 points in a tough game against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg in front of a hostile crowd.
The offense looked sluggish at times, with Heisman hopeful Sam Howell being sacked six times and throwing three interceptions, including the game-sealing pick on a preposterous throwaway attempt on Carolina’s final drive.
The Tar Heels’ season-opening loss is the first of its kind in the revitalized Mack Brown era, dampening the excitement that came with the season as quickly as it arrived.
UNC was one of three ranked teams — No. 16 LSU, No. 20 Washington — to lose to an unranked team in Week 1.
However, as a fellow Tar Heel myself, it’s imperative that I mention that Duke lost, 31-28, to the Charlotte 49ers on Friday, who didn’t even have a football program a decade ago. Let’s focus on that instead.
5. Kansas finally did it
As a nod to our editor and publisher, Bill Horner III, I felt the need to mention that his Kansas Jayhawks — arguably the worst Power 5 football program in the country — finally won a game.
On Friday night, the Jayhawks downed South Dakota, an FCS team, by a 17-14 score in Head Coach Lance Leipold’s first game with the team, resulting in KU’s first victory in 22 months (since Oct. 26, 2019).
And yes, despite playing what was clearly an inferior opponent, the students at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium actually stormed the field after the game to celebrate the victory.
Wins are rare in Kansas football, though, so it’s hard to fault students for going a little overboard. I get it.
Congrats, Bill and the residents of Lawrence, Kansas. Enjoy this one.
It might be a while before you can do it again.
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