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What Did We Learn in Week 1?

Well that was fun.

After seven long months of having to actually be productive on Saturdays, college football returned this weekend, and it was as good as advertised. I set a personal career worst Nike Fuel Points on Saturday, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Football! Laziness! America!

I’ll be writing a weekly column here at Crystal Ball Run, which was originally supposed to be a “What We Learned” recap of the week’s action. Then it hit me: who am I to tell you what you learned?

In that case, I’ll be writing to tell you what I learned each week in college football, and you will read it. Or not.

No but really please read it.

Clemson can win it all

Look, somebody has to end the SEC’s run of seven straight national titles sometime, right? There are a very small handful of teams that fit the bill this season, and Clemson is absolutely one of them. The Tigers wore down Georgia in Death Valley Saturday night in arguably the most anticipated game for the program in decades.

Tajh Boyd looks every bit the part of a Heisman contender after throwing for 290 yards and three touchdowns – with no interceptions. His evolution over the past three years under Chad Morris’ tutelage is nothing short of remarkable. He is in complete control of the offense, which, by the way, has not lost a step despite the absence of DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington.

What separates the SEC from the rest of the country is its unmatched combination of size and speed. A team like Oregon has the speed, but not the size to reasonably match up with the SEC’s elite. Teams from the Big 10 have the size, but nowhere near the speed to keep up with the likes of Alabama, LSU, Georgia, etc.

Well, Clemson has that balance. If the Tigers do in fact run the table – which is a big assumption (they’re still Clemson) – they will give whomever they face in the national title game a run for their money.

 Johnny Manziel is the most fun college football player ever

I have never been more entertained watching an opening weekend blowout than I did during the second half of Texas A&M’s 52-31 win over Rice on Saturday.

What is there not to like about this guy? We are always so quick to criticize athletes who run their mouth, both on and off the field when they don’t back it up. This guys ALWAYS BACKS IT UP. We’ll never truly know what the Rice players were saying to Johnny throughout the game but whatever it was, Johnny was channeling a level of trash talking that I’ve never seen before at any level.

Rice definitely won’t be the only team that will try everything it can to get in Manziel’s head this season. As long as Manziel keeps producing – and if Saturday is any indication, he will – we shouldn’t waste our time criticizing his every move. We’re much better off enjoying it while it lasts.

Christian Hackenberg is the man in Happy Valley

Bill O’Brien admitted after Penn State’s 23-17 win over Syracuse that he’s known for weeks that Christian Hackenberg was going to be his starting quarterback this season; he simply never felt the need to tell the rest of us.

Unnecessary gamesmanship? Maybe, but I don’t hate it. No matter what went into O’Brien’s decision to keep his stance on QB1 a secret, Hackenberg proved on Saturday that he gives the Nittany Lions the best chance to win.

There were some bumps along the way – a fourth quarter interception while milking a 13-point lead was a critical mistake – but Hackenberg proved why he was the nation’s most highly sought after signal-caller out of Fork Union Military Academy a year ago. His 54-yard touchdown toss to Eugene Lewis early in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty. Hackenberg was comfortable in the pocket most of the time and flashed his rocket arm on a handful of throws. His biggest obstacle right now is simply adjusting to the speed at this level.

Once he’s able to do that, the sky is the limit.

Alabama isn’t perfect (yet)

If you take away Christion Jones’ trio of non-offensive touchdowns in Alabama’s 35-10 win over Virginia Tech, the Crimson Tide only outscored the Hokies 14-10. For a game that was decided by more than three touchdowns, there was a strange aura about both teams afterwards. The Hokies seemed oddly satisfied with their performance, while all Nick Saban could talk about after the win was how much better his team could have played (are you surprised?).

Let’s face it: Tech’s front seven exposed an inexperienced Alabama offensive line. James Gayle, Luther Maddy and company set up camp in the backfield all game long. The Tide may not face a defensive line as talented as the Hokies’ group again this season – seriously.

Should Alabama fans be worried about the protection (or lack thereof) for AJ McCarron? Only a little bit. Texas A&M’s defensive line isn’t quite up to par with the Hokies, but offensively the Aggies will present an immensely superior challenge than what Logan Thomas and his cast of misfit receivers did in Atlanta.

If the Crimson Tide can keep McCarron clean in College Station in two weeks, they’ll have two months to get the offensive line up to snuff by the time LSU comes to town. Even so, Alabama is exactly what we thought they were: the best team in America.

Hands down.

Great weekend for new coaches (unless you’re Willie Taggart)

There were 31 new coaches who debuted this weekend, and many of them kicked off the new regime in inspiring fashion. Let’s take a look at the 10 best opening games for new head coaches in the FBS:

  1. Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (beat Colorado State 41-27)
  2. Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky (beat Kentucky 35-26)
  3. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (beat SMU 41-23)
  4. Gus Malzahn, Auburn (beat Washington State 31-24)
  5. Tommy Tuberville, Cincinnati (beat Purdue 41-7)
  6. Dave Doeren, NC State (beat Louisiana Tech 40-14)
  7. Butch Jones, Tennessee (beat Austin Peay 45-0)
  8. Bret Bielema, Arkansas  (beat Louisiana 34-14)
  9. Mark Helfrich, Oregon (beat Nicholls St 66-3)
  10. Gary Andersen, Wisconsin (beat UMass 45-0)

Conversely, a handful of coaches had a night to forget in their first time roaming the sidelines with the new club. Willie Taggart and South Florida were pantsed by McNeese State, which finished fourth in the Southland conference last season. I didn’t watch a minute of the game so I have no idea how that happened, but I get the feeling I’d be saying the same thing had I seen it start to finish.

Mark Stoops has re-invigorated the fan base in Lexington, but Kentucky fell flat on Saturday, losing to redheaded stepchild school Western Kentucky for the second straight year. Stoops has a long road ahead of him to bring the Wildcats back to a competitive level in the SEC, and Saturday’s setback was a reality check that suddenly bandwagon overzealous Kentucky football fans likely needed.

All in all, a fantastic slate of games on paper turned out to be equally as entertaining on the field. It was honestly one of the better wall-to-wall opening weekends I can remember. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.

What was your biggest takeaway from the weekend? Leave it in the comments below or tweet me @JoshParcell and let’s talk football.

Kevin McGuire

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to College Football Talk on NBCSports.com. Member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. College Football Hall of Fame voter. Also managing Bloguin's NittanyLionsDen.com and Macho-Row.com.

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