John McGrath

John McGrath: Wrapping up a wild Week 1 in college football

Former USC and UW coach Steve Sarkisian was hired by Alabama as an offensive analyst on Monday. Sarkisian is still locked in a legal battle with the Trojans over his 2015 firing.
Former USC and UW coach Steve Sarkisian was hired by Alabama as an offensive analyst on Monday. Sarkisian is still locked in a legal battle with the Trojans over his 2015 firing. TNS

College football’s wildest opening week in maybe forever ended with the Washington Huskies ranked No. 8 by the Associated Press. The game that vaulted Washington into the Top 10 was a low-key affair at Husky Stadium, where a morning drizzle discouraged fans from packing a poncho and watching the anticipated rout of Rutgers.

Elsewhere, though, college football announced its arrival with all the subtlety of a volcanic eruption.

Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin outsmarted Washington State coach Mike Leach. Oklahoma stewed over a rare loss. Kansas celebrated a rare victory. Texas and Notre Dame drew a record television audience. Southern California suffered the third-worst defeat in Trojans history. Florida State rallied from a 22-point deficit, and Melvin Smith lost a job.

Amid all that craziness, it was easy to overlook the news about Smith, who began the weekend as the second-year defensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette. He finished the weekend as the ex-defensive coordinator at Louisiana-Lafayette.

When I read that Smith had been fired, I figured he had done something as boneheaded as, say, getting arrested for assault after a fight outside a pizza-delivery joint that was not particularly prompt at delivering pizzas. But Smith had caused no apparent problems. His only misdeed was putting together a defense that surrendered 584 yards in a 45-10 defeat at the hands of Boise State.

Said Ragin’ Cajuns head coach Mark Hudspeth in a statement: “We appreciate everything that Melvin has done for us since coming here. … Making a change is never easy.”

Actually, making a change is very easy. It’s why dozens of head coaches and assistants will be out of work in a few months. What’s not easy is justifying how a defensive coordinator deserved to lose his job one game into a 12-game season.

Boise State scored 45 points? This is the way Boise State rolls when the Broncos take on mid-major teams ill-equipped to stop them. Nobody should be surprised if Boise State puts up another 45 in its home opener Saturday night against the Cougars.

Leach is a proud nonconformist — OK, let’s be blunt, he’s the oddest duck out there — but not even Mike Leach fires his defensive coordinator after one game.

Speaking of moves made after one game, Alabama’s Nick Saban on Monday hired former Huskies and USC head coach Steve Sarkisian as an “analyst,” whatever that is.

Saban described the role as “having some input in some things we can do better,” although one wonders what Alabama can do better. The Crimson Tide just obliterated No. 20 USC, 52-6, in a connect-the-dots victory over the school Sarkisian has sued for breach of contract and discrimination on the basis of a disability.

It would be naive to believe Sarkisian didn’t supply Alabama with a comprehensive scouting report on the Trojans. By kickoff, Saban likely knew the names of the first pets of each USC starter.

And while I’m certain the Tide would’ve dominated without access to advance information, I’m also certain Bill Belichick’s 2007 New England Patriots didn’t need an elaborate spying system to beat inferior opponents. For that matter, I’m certain Republican Party operatives didn’t need to arrange a 1972 break-in at the Watergate Hotel. Incumbent president Richard Nixon was a cinch to win in a landslide.

“Paranoia strikes deep, into your life it will creep. It starts when you’re always afraid.”

Those are lyrics from the song “For What It’s Worth” recorded by Buffalo Springfield, a 1960s rock band not to be confused with the approximate name of a college team that typically appears on a power-conference team’s football schedule. But opening week in 2016 was packed with one intriguing collision after another.

LSU traveled to face Wisconsin in Green Bay, where NCAA rules required the Badgers to resist performing any “Lambeau Leaps” until the conclusion of their 16-14 victory. UCLA went to Texas A&M and lost a 31-24 overtime thriller that served as an undercard bout for Texas’ 50-47 defeat of Notre Dame in double overtime.

The visiting Fighting Irish were in position to win when they scored a touchdown in the first overtime. Because Texas’ defense was on its heels and clearly exhausted, Notre Dame should’ve adhered to the wisdom of road-team aggressiveness and gone for the knockout two-point conversion. But the Irish settled for the one-point kick to tie, prolonging the inevitable instead of avoiding it.

Notre Dame’s ambitions of a special season did not end last weekend. Same for Washington State, which opened with a similarly deflating defeat to Portland State last September and went on to beat the Miami Hurricanes in a bowl game. Hope is alive, too, at LSU and UCLA and USC.

The only season put to an end last weekend was Melvin Smith’s.

My love of college football is unconditional, always and forever. But when a defensive coordinator gets the ax after one game, it tends to complicate the relationship.

John McGrath: @TNTMcGrath

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