By Ben Johnson - Special to SBNation.com
Who Won The Day On Opening Weekend?
They're big, they're fast, they're nasty...they're fast (I said that already)...the Crimson Tide's rule over college football in week #1 sent such a resounding warning siren across the college football landscape that the SEC's dominance in college football isn't going to roll over and die (simply because more than a few E - "SEC" - PN analyst's predict that the conference will not win a 7th consecutive title), that they vaulted to number one status over a very deserving USC program in a matter of one weekend's worth of action.
Championship teams are fast starting, they knock the chocolate out of you with a powerfully strong running game predicated on getting a hat-on-a-hat; they scorch you through the air the moment you pack 8 or nine in the box trying to defend it, and overwhelm you with such defensive fierceness that you would swear on the good lord's name that they are playing with 13 players instead of eleven; they score in bunches, ending any doubt early and continue to pound you into submission long after the battle has already been determined.
And that was the feeling after one half of action, barely 30 minutes into the 2012 college football season with the scoreboard blinking 31-7 at halftime, out-gaining the Wolverines 431 - 269 after 60 minutes, limiting Denard Robinson to 11-26 passing for 200 yards, a touchdown and 2 majorly costly interceptions, all the while pounding him every time he ran the ball (10 carries for a meager 27 yards).
Everyone one of those championship predictors was apparent in Dallas on Saturday evening for the whole nation to view and ponder.
Robinson's longest run of the night was a nine yard scramble for a first down as he lay writhing in pain with an apparent back injury early in the third quarter. The damage to Michigan's psyche, and perhaps the rest of the Big Ten, as well as the remainder of the national contenders, was apparent by then.
It will take a while for Michigan to get over this one even with the majority of the players vowing that "Alabama won't beat us twice," referring to the two week hangover after this party got entirely out of hand.
Alabama simply didn't beat a strong Michigan program, they knocked them completely out of the national championship picture, creating an aura of fragility around the program as they failed to measure up to any of the benchmarks they set for themselves at the start of the season.
If Alabama is the measuring stick, Michigan is still in the 6th grade of the championship hierarchy.
It will certainly cast is pall over the next three weekends before the Wolverines begin Big Ten conference action with a potential trap game versus Air Force looming next week; a pasty win over UMass, and then Notre Dame by the end of September.
That Top-5 schedule for Michigan just got a little stickier after boarding the plane home from Dallas. Is a 1-3 September on the horizon?
What did it do for Alabama?
They vaulted to number one past a strong performing USC program that we hope can keep improving enough to give the Tide or LSU a game in the 2013 version of the monopolistic title venture, as if there was any doubt that they left that perch in January, after blanking a dominating LSU program in the title game.
What A Difference A Year Makes:
Last year it was Notre Dame, giving a game away to South Florida, which left it in a downward spiral for the remainder of the first half of the season.
Michigan benefited at Notre Dames expense, all the way to an 11-2 campaign and the Orange Bowl.
This year, those roles could be reversed.
It will be interesting to see how Brady Hoke's Michigan program responds after being thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, outclassed on a national stage in what appeared to be a pre-season BCS national championship setting in Dallas.
Michigan simply doesn't belong as a championship contender in 2012.
Who AreThe Contenders?
After Alabama, certainly LSU will be strong again in 2012, although North Texas doesn't provide us any indication of the Tigers true strength.
For me, I am looking for a program that dominates on opening weekend, especially defensively, limiting an opponent to two scores or less, and most importantly, continuing to shine on defense long after the contest has already been determined.
Surrendering even 17 points is marginal, but I will give them benefit of the doubt.
So who are they?
1. USC - they had the fast start with big play explosiveness, a stingy defense that continued to play long after the victory had been determined, and they weren't satisfied, giving themselves a C-grade for the game. Perhaps even more important, the Trojans demonstrated that they could create turnovers on defense.
Week #1 Score: Trojans 49 - Warriors 10.
2. Michigan State - if any program was similar to Alabama on opening weekend, it was the Spartans. Le'Veon Ball had 50 touches on the night, running for 203 yards on 44 carries, and an additional 6 receptions for 55 yards receiving. He mauled a game Boise program that couldn't generate a single touchdown on offense with a 4.6 yard per carry average., yet Boise was in the game to the very end.
Week #1 Score: Spartans 17 - Boise State 13.
3. Notre Dame - this is an iffy pick, but winning by 40 points over a Navy program that has had their number over the last five seasons is indication enough. What lifted me over the hump was a defense limiting the spread bone offense to 10 points and 341 yards of total offense. This is a major sign that the Irish may be smiling in 2012 as their defense may have arrived.
Week #1 Score: Irish 50 - Midshipmen 10
4. Virginia Tech - the Hokies have struggled with season openers that last three seasons, but one thing is for certain...by the end of the year, they are among the nations best. They finally survived opening weekend, and if they can stay on-que, that defense could get better and better with a quarterback in Logan Thomas that could be among the Heisman favorites by December. This is my sleeper pick!
Week #1 Score: Hokies 20 - Yellow Jackets 17.
5. Clemson - the Tigers won the battle between the Tigers and with a solid defensive effort versus a very game SEC opponent, that offense will certainly get better once Sammy Watkins announces his presence in Week #3. I know it's Clemson but don't sleep on the Tigers, especially given that the ACC is very manageable for Clemson this season. Yes, I think the Seminoles are vastly over-rated, and no way can I vote them into the title game even if they go undefeated with a strength of schedule in the 70's. NO FRIGGIN' Way!
Week #1 Score: Tigers 26 - Auburn 19.
?. TCU has yet to play, but if they can survive a dangerous Big-12 schedule with the heavyweights, they could put a serious monkey in the BCS wrench.
Serious Contenders, Semi-Quasi Contenders and Over-rated Contenders - Not Enough Defensive In My Mind:
1. Oregon and West Virginia are birds of a feather in mind. Very fun to watch offensively, but seriously, giving up 35 points and 530 yards of offense (to Arkansas State), or 34 points and 560 yards of offense (to Marshall) is a bit much for a championship contender don't cha' think? I wouldn't mind watching these two teams line it up in the Holiday or Fiesta Bowl. That would be fun but championships are won with top notch defense and neither was apparent on opening weekend.
2. Arkansas and Georgia. Seriously! Are you kidding me...ranking both these teams in the Top-10? Arkansas gave up 24 to Jacksonville State...the Bulldogs gave up 23 to Buffalo! Let's wait a couple weeks for the Hogs (and I'm an Arkansas fan)...but we can't for Georgia since they miss all the big dawgs of the conference this year. Georgia has my vote for the most vastly over-rated program given their very un-SEC like schedule. Oregon, USC, West Virginia and perhaps even Notre Dame blitz this team and I don't think it would be close!
3. Texas and Florida State. Both these programs are former shells of themselves. The Horns still haven't rebounded from the shellacking that the Crimson Tide put on them in the 2009 title game and Florida State will struggle with the heart of the ACC schedule...Clemson already has a leg up on the Noles given their high profile battle with Auburn.
1. Nevada - spoiled the Golden Bears debut in their new diggs and placed Tedford directly on the coaches hot seat early in the season.
2. Ohio - like Florida State, they play an very easy and manageable schedule, plus like the state of Florida, Ohio is a very big time state politically. If they bust the BCS I may in fact get sick because they struggled to beat a Penn State program that lost almost their entire starting team to graduation and defection. The bottom line is Solich's team isn't that good, but will likely be 12-0 by seasons end.
3. Missouri - the SEC will find the Tigers a bit more than they had hoped for in 2012.
5 Games To Highlight on Opening Weekend:
1. Northwestern 42 - Syracuse 41: Both programs will be defensively challenged inside their respective conferences, but you had better score at least 28 points when you play either of these two programs. I smell upsets galore with both of these teams when they play the upper tier programs within their conferences.
2. Michigan State 17 - Boise State 13: The biggest shocker of the weekend may in fact be that Boise failed to score an offensive touchdown, yet they were in the game to the bitter end. That in my mind is evidence enough that Boise is NOT a mid-major program.
3. Virginia Tech 20 - Georgia Tech 17: This one was very boring until the 4th quarter when both programs woke up long enough to make it entertaining. Could this be the year that Virginia Tech survives its opening weekend to post an undefeated season?
4. Clemson 26 - Auburn 19: Was everything I hoped it would be and more with incredible plays, both offensively and defensively. I thought the post-game prayer was the classiest move of the weekend. Hats off for first class entertainment.
5. Nevada 24 - California 17: Cal may in fact rebound and benefit from this game as I see the Wolf-Pack taking Boise's place in the Mountain West. Could Nevada and Ohio end up the Fiesta Bowl?
This Post Will Be Updated Tomorrow - Stay Tuned!