The first full college football Saturday of the season saw a top-5 meeting, ranked matchups, stellar debuts and a FCS shocker over a ranked team. Sunday saw the return of a quarterback who missed nearly three years.
Here's what you need to know from Week 1's action:
6 things to know from Week 1 of the college football season
1. These teams stood out in an early season "prove it" weekend
There were five ranked vs. ranked games on Saturday. Not bad for early September.
The biggest matchup rank-wise was over in Charlotte, North Carolina, where No. 5 Georgia took down No. 3 Clemson, 10-3. Defense was the big story from this one as both offenses combined for 434 yards and no touchdowns. The lone touchdown of the evening came courtesy of Georgia DB Christopher Smith, as he picked off Clemson's DJ Uiagalelei and took it 74 yards to the house for the score. The Bulldogs' defense also sacked Uiagalelei seven times — for reference, the Tigers allowed just 20 sacks all last season.
Another defensive battle came down to the wire as No. 19 Penn State defeated No. 12 Wisconsin 16-10. LB Ellis Brooks and S Jaquan Brisker put on a show as the Nittany Lions got coach James Franklin his first road win against an AP Top-15 team in his career. The icing on the cake were two interceptions in the final 3 minutes, giving Penn State its first win in Madison since 2013.
In another top-25 game in the Big Ten, No. 18 Iowa routed No. 17 Indiana 34-6 thanks to two pick-6 scores.
No. 1 Alabama rolled, dominating No. 14 Miami (Fla.) 44-13 behind four Bryce Young touchdown passes. No. 21 Texas also won big in Steve Sarkisian's debut, topping No. 23 Louisiana 38-18.
On Sunday night, Florida State hung around with No. 9 Notre Dame. Down 18 points in the fourth quarter, Seminoles QB McKenzie Milton, who hadn't played in nearly three years due to a gruesome leg injury, led his team all the way back, tying it 38-38 and forcing OT. The Fighting Irish eventually won the game 41-38, but Florida State proved its no joke in 2021.
2. Some contenders liked to keep things close
If you thought all the top teams in college football would have an easy road early in the 2021 season, think again.
Top teams like No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 7 Iowa State, No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 11 Oregon had close calls after entering as heavy favorites. The average margin of victory in their games was 3-6 points, with each game being decided late in the fourth quarter — in Notre Dame's case, overtime.
Nothing is given in college football. In any week, an elite team is at risk of losing.
3. Home-field advantage is a thing again
After a COVID-19 forced a 2020 season that limited crowd numbers, fans returned to college football stadiums around the country in Week 1. Not only could you see the fans in the seats this weekend, but you could hear them as well.
The Big House was rocking as Michigan put up 47 points with a new-look explosive offense. The "Iowa Wave" returned in Iowa City and the packed stadium saw No. 18 Hawkeyes get a blowout win over No. 17 Indiana.
Out west, No. 15 Southern California dominated California foe San Jose State in front of fans at LA Memorial Coliseum. Cross-town rival UCLA put together a statement win over No. 16 LSU, taking down the Tigers 38-27 in the historic Rose Bowl.
Down in the Sunshine State, unranked Florida State returned to a sold out Doak Campbell Stadium, taking on No. 9 Notre Dame. The War Chant echoed throughout the pregame festivities and during halftime, when the Seminoles paid tribute to former head coach, the late Bobby Bowden. Ultimately, the Noles lost 41-38, but the fan's electricity helped keep the game close.
Now that fans are back, college football once again has some of the best environments in all of sports.
4. Expect the unexpected in 2021
Week 1 of college football was full of surprises. On Friday, the first top-10 team fell as UNC lost to Virginia Tech. There also were three FCS-over-FBS upsets on Saturday alone. There were almost more. On Saturday, UNI pushed top-10 Iowa State late and fell short. However, Montana came up with a 13-7 victory in Seattle over No. 20 Washington. It's the first win by an FCS team against a ranked FBS team since North Dakota State beat No. 13 Iowa 23-21 in 2016.
Moreover, teams that struggled in 2020 started fast, picking up an early victory. Maryland's offense showed big-play potential behind QB Taulia Tagovailoa's three touchdowns in a win against West Virginia. Even Kansas got a win, its first since 2019.
Another thing that was never expected: Florida State's Milton ever returning to the football field. He did that in a big way Sunday night.
Expect the unexpected in the 2021 college football season.
5. New quarterbacks put on a show
Many quarterbacks across the country dazzled in their debuts this weekend.
The weekend started with Ohio State QB CJ Stroud throwing for four touchdowns in his first start. The quarterback play went to another level on Saturday. Kentucky's Will Levis and Alabama's Bryce Young each threw for 340-plus yards with four touchdowns in dominating win. Former Oklahoma QB Tanner Mordecai set the SMU record for single-game passing touchdowns with seven.
TOP 25: Check out the latest AP rankings
Then there's South Carolina's Zeb Noland. The grad assistant, who previously played at Iowa State and North Dakota State, needed to step in due to injury. He passed for 121 yards and four touchdowns in the Gamecocks' 46-0 win against Eastern Illinois.
These quarterbacks not only put to rest any concerns about them being new starters, but they also showed that they are dynamic playmakers for their teams.
6. Paying tribute to a legend
During halftime of the Florida State-Notre Dame game Sunday night, the Seminoles paid tribute to longtime head coach Bobby Bowden who passed away in August. FSU's band, the Marching Chiefs, spelt out “Bobby” on the field while playing “Amazing Grace”. The fans joined in by shining their cell phone flashlights and chanting “Bobby!” while a video tribute was displayed.
The Seminoles unveiled a painting of Bowden prior to the game with his wife, Ann, and daughter, Ginger, in attendance. Both were introduced to the crowd at the game.
It was only fitting that with emotions already high in the stadium, Milton, leading two different comebacks (the team's and his own), got Florida State oh-so-close to upsetting No. 9 Notre Dame.