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Gil Brandt: College aerial attack going strong after Week 1


I'm not sure we could have had a better opening weekend in college football if we tried. Yes, there were plenty of lopsided matchups, but also plenty of intriguing games that are sure to have an impact on the first-ever College Football Playoff.

Wisconsin, for example, has dug itself a sizable hole with its loss to LSU on Saturday. I give Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez a ton of credit, however, for scheduling the Tigers. And the next two years don't get any easier for Wisconsin, which opens the 2015 season against Alabama and 2016 vs. LSU at Lambeau Field.

I think the Badgers can recover from this one. There were other teams in the opening week that came away with victories but left with more questions.

What I learned from Week 1 in college football ...

» The passing game is evolving and getting even stronger. Wherever we stopped last year, we pushed it even farther forward this season, if Week 1 was any indication. There were eight 400-yard passers and three who threw for more than 500 yards. The eight quarterbacks who threw for more than 400 yards combined for 31 touchdown passes. In fact, there were 14 quarterbacks to throw for at least four touchdowns.

» Christian Hackenberg is a star-in-waiting. The Penn State passer was one of the 400-yard quarterbacks. He threw for 454 yards in Penn State's 26-24 victory over Central Florida in Dublin on Saturday, becoming the first Nittany Lions quarterback to throw for more than 400 yards in a game. Hackenberg, a true sophomore, is going to be a very good quarterback. As a freshman last year, he performed very well on a poor team. At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, he has prototypical NFL size. Good character guy, too. I give him a lot of credit for sticking to his commitment to PSU when he could have bailed after the scandal, and no one would have blamed him.

» Auburn is a much more balanced offensive team. Last year, the Tigers became the first SEC team to lead the nation in rushing. They had a special talent in Heisman finalist Tre Mason, who has since moved on to the NFL. In a 45-21 shellacking of Arkansas on Saturday, quarterback Jeremy Johnson gave Auburn a passing threat against Arkansas, something it didn't have last season. He threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns while subbing for suspended Nick Marshall in the first half. It will be interesting to see if this will end up being a true split between Johnson and Marshall going forward, or if Gus Malzahn sticks with Marshall as was the case in 2013.

» Tyreek Hill is much more than a track guy playing football. Oklahoma State's highly touted junior college transfer had 22 touches as a rusher, receiver and returner for 278 all-purpose yards against a really good defensive Florida State team, a game I was privileged to watch in person at AT&T Stadium. He was a high school sprinter with Olympic speed, but no one really knew if he could play football at the FBS level ... until Saturday. He's going to be an exciting player. At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, he's small, and he won't be a full-time player for Mike Gundy. But every time he touches the ball, watch out. Reminds me a lot of Johnny Rodgers, the diminutive 1972 Heisman Trophy winner.

» FSU safety Jalen Ramsey is one of the top defensive backs in the country. And he's only a sophomore. Ramsey had 12 tackles against Oklahoma State and was all over the field. I think he probably would be a better corner than safety. You're going to hear a lot about him in the future.

» Todd Gurley is better than I thought, and I thought highly of him coming into the season. The running back was unbelievable in Georgia's 45-21 victory over Clemson, setting a school record with 293 all-purpose yards, averaging 17.2 yards every time he touched the ball. He was a man among boys against a solid defense. He does a decent job catching the ball, too. He runs a little high, but his style reminds me of Marshawn Lynch and Eddie Lacy. The trend of backs not getting drafted in the first round should end in 2015 if the junior decides to come out early. And if he does, he'll likely run in the 4.4 range at his workouts for NFL teams. Not bad for a 232-pound man.

» I don't think Nick Saban should ever change his style of offense. The Alabama coach was asked if he would ever switch from a more conventional offense to the spread, which almost every FBS team uses. He replied by saying he would never say never. But I think teams have a tough time preparing for the Crimson Tide because they run such a different style than everybody else. It's an advantage. We're living in a copycat world; no reason to copy the spread if what you're doing is working.

» Texas could have been a 10-win team with a healthy David Ash. Charlie Strong had a strong debut as Texas coach. It was only North Texas, but the Longhorns won convincingly, and looked tough doing it. Ash, who missed 10 of 13 games last season with concussion-related issues, was going to be key to Strong's first season, but he is again suffering from concussion-like symptoms and will miss Week 2. He played well on Saturday, running an efficient and balanced offense. Mack Brown didn't leave the cupboard empty in Austin. I expect about seven of the Longhorns' returning starters to be drafted.

» North Dakota State is a great human-interest story. The Bison lost 12 starters from last year's team and their head coach. That didn't stop the FCS school from beating its fifth straight FBS team, all on the road. The latest victim was Iowa State. The previous four were Minnesota twice (2007, 2011), Kansas (2010), Colorado State (2012), and Kansas State (2013).

I didn't see that coming ...

» I don't think anyone saw Kenny Hill coming, certainly not South Carolina. Coming into the season, most had the Aggies finishing sixth or worse in the SEC West. Somewhat understandable when you consider they lost three players on offense who were drafted in the first round and who were able to help cover up a porous defense. But like good teams do, A&M reloaded. It only took one game for Hill to smash Johnny Manziel's single-game passing mark. Against South Carolina, the sophomore quarterback was completing passes like he was playing catch with someone 10 yards away. It does make you think if this is an offense like BYU or Hawaii of past years, where stars arise from a system. I don't believe that is the case here. I think Manziel would have put up similar numbers if he had stayed in school and played in this game.

» Washington had a close call at Hawaii. But the Huskies have a new quarterback, which always makes things interesting early in the season, and Hawaii is historically a difficult place to play in openers. Hawaii tends to get some home cooking. Talk to coaches who have played there if you think I'm wrong.

» I was a surprised at Jameis Winston's ineffectiveness early in FSU's win. It was not a particularly good game for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, who threw the ball behind some of his targets and generally seemed in a malaise. It's hard to be too critical, however, after he threw for 370 yards and ran and passed for touchdowns in the second half, putting pesky Oklahoma State away. This is a complete Florida State team, down to its placekicker. I think it will take a major upset for the Seminoles to get beat this season. In a way, this close game might be the best thing that could have happened to the Seminoles. It taught them they need to take every opponent seriously; I don't think they did on Saturday.

» J.T. Barrett is a much better quarterback than people thought. The quarterback who replaced the injured Braxton Miller guided Ohio State to a 34-17 win over Navy, completing 12 of 15 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. He's a better passer than Miller, but not as talented a runner. I think the Buckeyes' offense will be just fine with Barrett. The defense is another matter. It gave up 370 yards on the ground to Navy.

» What happened to Melvin Gordon in the second half? After carrying the ball 12 times for 76 yards in the first half, then ripping off 63 yards on Wisconsin's first offensive play of the second half, the star running back carried the ball just three more times for one yard the rest of the way. Sophomore Corey Clement received the bulk of the second-half load with 14 carries for 41 yards. Injury didn't appear to be the reason for the switch. You have to believe the result would have been much different with Gordon in the game when LSU made its comeback.

» I was mildly surprised by UCLA's struggles against Virginia. And maybe more surprised by how the Bruins won, relying more on their defense than quarterback Brett Hundley. Perhaps the close game shouldn't have been a shock. This was an early game -- 8 a.m. PT start. I suspect that attributed to some of UCLA's sluggishness.

Coach of the week

Coaches never get as much credit as they should. I want to use this space each week to recognize a coach who did an exceptional job.

I'm not sure there's much competition for the top spot. Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin did a marvelous job preparing for life after Manziel this offseason. When you're on the road and a sizable underdog against a top 10 team, and you win by more than three touchdowns, you've maximized your efforts.

My new top 10

  1. Florida State
    1. Oklahoma
    2. Alabama
    3. Oregon
    4. Auburn
    5. UCLA
    6. Baylor
    7. Michigan State
    8. Georgia
    9. Ohio State
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