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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Whether you call it opening weekend, Week 0, a soft launch or something else, one thing’s for certain: College football is back, baby!
Yes, it was only four games. And yes, the teams in action on opening weekend received a combined total of zero votes in the preseason AP Top 25 poll. But after months of ESPN airing things like cornhole, semi-professional basketball and a lot of Texas Hold’Em, it sure was nice to have college football back in our lives.
To properly welcome its return, we’ve got the biggest winners and losers of opening weekend. From Duquesne’s deplorable defense to the heavenly helmets of Hawaii, here’s the Saturday roundup.
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Tucked away in the obscurity of a Massachusetts program with a 19.4 winning percentage over the past six seasons, Andy Isabella has quietly put together a solid career.
Per Sports Reference, he was one of just 11 players to accumulate at least 1,800 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns between 2016 and 2017. He’s the only player from that list who is still playing college football in 2018.
And he’s doing so quite well thus far.
In the season-opening 63-15 trouncing of FCS opponent Duquesne, Isabella was responsible for three of the Minutemen’s nine touchdowns. He scored on a 60-yard reception early in the first quarter, rushed one in from 14 yards out in the second and caught a 44-yard TD in the third. He only had six touches in the game, but he finished with 145 yards from scrimmage.
Don’t blame it all on the quality of the opposition, either. It wasn’t even a career-high day for Isabella, who had 158 and 152 receiving yards in back-to-back games in November. In fact, he had seven games last year with at least 80 yards and a touchdown, and he has made at least three catches in 23 of 24 games over the past two seasons.
Massachusetts probably won’t be relevant for anything other than the first win of the 2018 season, but Isabella could be a factor in the national race for most receiving yards.
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Michael Dwyer/Associated Press
If recent years are any indication, Duquesne won’t be the last FCS team that gets obliterated by an FBS opponent in Week 1. Between 2013 and 2017, there were 30 instances of a team scoring at least 63 points in its first game, 27 of which were of the FBS-over-FCS variety, according to Sports Reference.
But it’s hard to believe it happened in this particular game.
Massachusetts hasn’t exactly been one of the best teams in the nation since joining the FBS ranks in 2012, and Duquesne is usually one of the more successful FCS squads. The Dukes are no North Dakota State or James Madison, but they have earned at least a share of the Northeast Conference title in four of the past seven seasons.
Prior to Saturday’s tussle with Massachusetts, Duquesne had not given up more than 59 points in a game since 2001—nor had Massachusetts scored more than 55 points in a game in any of the past 16 seasons.
Lo and behold, the Minutemen scored nine touchdowns—and it could have been worse. Through five possessions, Massachusetts was averaging 14.3 yards per offensive snap and nearly two points per minute.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Helmets don’t win games, but it turns out they can win Twitter.
Shortly before kickoff between Hawaii and Colorado State, Robert Kekaula—well known among college football fans for announcing Hawaii games in a Hawaiian shirt—tweeted a picture of the helmets Hawaii would be wearing for the game.
It went viral.
A couple hours before that, the Hawaii Football Twitter account posted a video of the decals being placed on the helmets. It included the hashtag #HurricaneLane to signify that they are thinking about their friends and family back home. Thankfully, the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn’t hit Hawaii squarely.
Here’s hoping those beautiful helmets are here to stay rather than something the Rainbow Warriors will only break out for meteorological anomalies.
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Tim Warner/Getty Images
By beating Prairie View A&M 31-28 on a walk-off field goal, Rice already has as many wins as it did in the entire 2017 season.
Now let’s talk about how ugly it was.
Rice went at least 44 yards on each of its first four possessions, punctuating each one with points. It looked like business as usual for a Prairie View A&M defense that has been annihilated by FBS opponents in recent years. In 2016, the Panthers lost 67-0 to Texas A&M and 65-44 to Rice. The year before that, Texas State stomped them 63-24. That’s an average of 65.0 points allowed in their three most recent FBS games.
But after taking a 19-7 lead, Rice’s offense vanished. The Owls had seven consecutive drives of fewer than 30 yards, only one of which resulted in a score. Meanwhile, Prairie View scored 28 points in the span of 16 minutes, forcing the Owls to come from behind to get the win.
Rice only outgained Prairie View by 13 yards, and it had a nightmare of a time trying to move the ball through the air, averaging just 3.6 yards per attempt.
To be fair, Emmanuel Esukpa had a great game, rushing 32 times for 173 yards and a touchdown. The junior had not previously rushed for more than 56 yards in a game in his college career. But it wasn’t exactly an encouraging start for an offense that will be facing one of the most unstoppable defensive forces in the nation in Week 2: Houston’s Ed Oliver.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
After two years as the starting quarterback for Hawaii, Dru Brown transferred to Oklahoma State this offseason.
Nick Stevens, who spent three years as the starting quarterback for Colorado State, ran out of eligibility at the end of the 2017 campaign.
As a result, this Mountain West Conference season opener featured a pair of QBs—Cole McDonald for Hawaii and K.J. Carta-Samuels for Colorado State—who had a combined total of 332 career passing yards.
They had nearly triple that amount in this game alone.
Initially, McDonald was the undisputed star. The sophomore was unstoppable as Hawaii jumped out to a 37-7 lead. He finished with 418 passing yards, 96 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. According to Sports Reference, that is just the 14th time since 2000 that a player has had at least 400 passing yards, 90 rushing yards and five scores in a game. Even Lamar Jackson only did it once in his career.
As Colorado State mounted a furious comeback attempt, Carta-Samuels put on quite the show too. The graduate transfer from Washington threw for 537 yards and five touchdowns—a feat made even more incredible when you remember the Rams no longer have phenom wide receiver Michael Gallup. It wasn’t quite enough, though, as Hawaii won 43-34.
In the past two seasons, there were only two games in which one team had at least 525 passing yards and the other had at least 400. Both of those games involved Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma at Oklahoma State last year and Oklahoma at Texas Tech in 2016).
You expect that type of offensive explosion in those Big 12 games, but shame on these defenses for getting lit up by a pair of guys who combined to attempt 19 passes in 2017.
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Andres Leighton/Associated Press
In 2017, New Mexico State played in a bowl game for the first time since 1960. However, after losing the starting quarterback, the primary running back and the star wide receiver, it felt like a safe bet the Aggies would take a step back on offense.
But there’s a fine line between “a step back” and “hopelessly unable to accomplish anything.”
One half into the 2018 season, Wyoming’s defense had New Mexico State looking like the latter. The Aggies had eight yards of total offense in the first 30 minutes.
You read that correctly: Eight. Freaking. Yards.
And if you factor in penalties, it’s even worse. There were three false starts, one illegal formation and a holding call against NMSU. One of the false starts came on its own 3—and led to a safety—so it was 26 penalty yards instead of 30. Still, eight yards of total offense minus 26 penalty yards means New Mexico State lost 18 yards of field position in the first half.
The Aggies did not get a first down until there were 15 seconds remaining in the first half, and they immediately followed it up with a false start and the holding penalty. It was as if they didn’t know how to handle something good happening.
Obviously, a lot of the credit goes to Wyoming’s defense, which is probably going to be the best in the Mountain West Conference this year. But eight total yards on 21 plays is something else.
At least they didn’t commit any turnovers…
The Aggies got a bit better in the second half, finishing with 135 total yards, but this thing was over shortly after it started. Wyoming cruised to a 29-7 victory.
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Andres Leighton/Associated Press
While New Mexico State couldn’t find an inch of space in Wyoming’s defense, Nico Evans was busy gashing the Aggies D on repeat.
The fifth-year senior running back entered the night with 36 carries for 108 yards in his college career. His previous career high was 25 yards.
But Next Up Nico did whatever he wanted, rushing 24 times for 190 yards and two touchdowns.
He scored from 24 yards out in the first quarter and effectively ended any hope of a New Mexico State comeback with a 56-yard TD midway through the third quarter. All told, he had seven carries that went for at least 10 yards.
If this is the start of a legitimate rushing campaign for Evans, watch out for the Cowboys. They still have an elite defense, and they would have been more of a threat to win the Mountain West Conference last year if they weren’t ranked 125th nationally in rush yards per attempt.
It would be weird if they got better after losing Josh Allen, but much stranger things have happened in this sport.
Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.