College football is mostly about two things. Quarterbacks. And the Southeastern Conference.
Nowhere did those two themes intersect better than in the first game of the season -- Texas A&M at South Carolina.
College football moved on from the Johnny Manziel era, leaving his every off-field move and on-field gesture as a concern for the NFL. But he still had the gravitational pull of a black hole in the offseason, pulling every question about Texas A&M into this singularity: How could the Aggies possibly replace Johnny Football and still be relevant?
It was the wrong question.
Give Manziel his due, but the immediate success of Texas A&M in the SEC had less to do with his improvisational skills and more to do with the man in charge of it all -- coach Kevin Sumlin. The question should have been: Have SEC foes figured out how to stop Sumlin?
Lesson No. 1 from the opening weekend of college football: Never doubt Sumlin's scheme.
He created a just-add-water Heisman candidate in sophomore Kenny Hill, who completed 44 of 60 passes for 511 yards, breaking the school single-game passing record of Johnny ... uh, what was that guy's name again?
Hill also threw for three touchdowns as he and the Aggies carved up the No. 9 Gamecocks 52-28.
Now, the opening weekend of the season always comes with a caveat -- avoid drawing too many conclusions based off one game. But the first impression screams that A&M's impressive performance wasn't a fluke.
Hill showed poise in the face of South Carolina's blitz. He is working behind an experienced offensive line, led by the team's next first-round left tackle -- Cedric Ogbuehi. Hill worked fast in the hurry-up offense and got the ball out quickly to an array of talented wideouts, including senior Malcome Kennedy and fab freshmen Ricky Seals-Jones and Speedy Noil. What we're saying is that the first-game numbers are sustainable.
Get used to the Aggies being back in the discussion in the wild SEC West and beyond. Their next four games are against Lamar, Rice, at SMU, and Arkansas. A&M should be 5-0 heading into an Oct. 4 game at Mississippi State, which is most definitely a team you don't want to sleep on.
Until then, just don't call the new quarterback Kenny Football. Perhaps Heis-Ken will do.
Five things we learned in week one
1. This is a corollary to the Kevin Sumlin clause: Never, ever, underestimate a Rich Rodriguez offense. He lost All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey and quarterback B.J. Denker, returning a Pac-12-low 23.6 percent of his offense. In Arizona's first game, a 58-13 win over UNLV, the Wildcats rolled up a school-record 787 total yards, 425 coming off the arm of redshirt freshman Anu Solomon. This Thursday's game at UTSA, which opened with a 27-7 win at Houston, could be better than you think.
2. Oklahoma State's defensive front is not good, it's great. Going against Florida State's best-in-the-nation offensive line, the Cowboys allowed just 106 rushing yards and had five tackles for loss, including two sacks from emerging sophomore star lineman Emmanuel Ogbah. After its close-call loss to No. 1 Florida State, young Oklahoma State has time to build before taking on a back-loaded schedule.
3. UCLA's 2014 potential problem is its 2013 Achilles' heel. Playing without two injured starters on the offensive line, the Bruins scored only one offensive touchdown in a 28-20 win at Virginia. The Cavs overwhelmed UCLA with their blitzes, coming up with 11 tackles for loss, including five sacks. Good news: UCLA might get back center Jake Brendel (knee) and left tackle Simon Goines (ankle) very soon. "I know that there is going to be a lot of concern about our offensive line, and it's warranted at this point," coach Jim Mora said. "Those of us that know we have a good group know that we just need to play better."
4. Senior quarterback Blake Sims got more than a courtesy start at Alabama. Everyone expected Florida State transfer Jacob Coker to win the job, but Sims' four years in the system trumped Coker's three months on campus. Sims was 24-for-33 for 250 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception, in a 33-23 win over West Virginia. It was a respectable effort that should earn encores in the next two games against weaklings Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss.
5. It's going to be a wild ride in 2014. OK, we already knew that. But when the two teams most favored to get to the first title game of the College Football Playoff era -- Florida State and Alabama -- each struggle in openers against unranked opponents ... it's a clear sign that crazy twists and turns, and breathtaking freefalls, await.
Five important returns
1. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. Returning from academic exile, Golson looked as good as the new FieldTurf in Notre Dame Stadium, passing for 295 yards and running for 41. He had two long on-the-mark touchdown passes that each traveled about 60 yards in the air. It's in the DNA of coach Brian Kelly to fling the ball all over the yard, and Golson's arm and experience give him a chance to get back to those roots.
2. Texas quarterback David Ash. Last season's concussion problems, followed by a spring foot injury, put Ash on the long road back. If the Longhorns are to have any success in coach Charlie Strong's debut, Ash has to stay healthy and be effective. He was sporadic in a 38-7 win over North Texas, completing 19 of 34 passes for 190 yards, and taking a couple of big hits that had Burnt Orange Nation holding its breath. Honorable mention: Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks, coming off an Achilles injury, made his first career interception. He is the glue guy of the defense.
3. Arizona receiver Austin Hill. The senior, who missed all of last season because of an ACL injury, came back in style with a 92-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown on the first play of the second half against UNLV. He stiff-armed a defender after the catch to gain the separation he needed to race in untouched the rest of the way. Hill leads one of the deepest groups of receivers in the country.
4. Maryland receivers Stefon Diggs/Deon Long. The Terps should have one of the best receiving corps in the conference -- that's now the Big Ten, remember -- led by Diggs and Long, who returned to the starting lineup in a rout of James Madison after rehabbing together from broken legs suffered at midseason last year. Diggs had five catches for 53 yards and returned a kickoff 59 yards. Long made two catches for 48 yards, including a 41-yard score.
5. Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Fired as USC's head coach during last season, Kiffin was back on the sideline, calling plays under the watchful eye of Nick Saban. The Tide gained 538 yards against West Virginia, which is good, but 'Bama can do better. Alabama must stop embracing the "Dinosaur Age" of offense -- Saban's words -- and use more of the fast-paced, no-huddle attack that sparked the Tide late in the second half and helped get quarterback Blake Sims in rhythm.
Five players to watch