College football returned with a trimmed-down Week 0 schedule, and in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference-Southwestern Athletic Conference made-for-TV showdown in Atlanta, North Carolina Central – a two-touchdown underdog – stunned Alcorn State, 23-14.
It was Alcorn's first game since December 2019, but it was the Eagles' first game since November '19 – and their first win since Nov. 2, 2019.
Now – at 1-0 – it is the first time the Eagles have a winning record in-season since the program's 7-4 campaign in 2017.
So, what happened?
After the Braves had taken a 14-13 lead into the fourth quarter, with Felix Harper's second touchdown pass seemingly giving them momentum, the Eagles used a 28-yard field goal to regain the lead and Brandon Codrington's 77-yard punt return for the final margin.
Additionally, at the Football Bowls Subdivision level, Illinois got a win in Bret Bielema's debut game atop the program -- and upset touchdown-favorite Nebraska in the process.
The game could not have showcased more disparate situations; Scott Frost is the embattled Cornhuskers coach now just 12-21 since he returned to his alma mater.
Bielema pieced together an impressive coaching staff, drawing heavily on Midwestern ties and specifically in-state contacts, and has the Illini 1-0.
There are myriad compelling matchups this week as college football truly ushers in the 2021 season with a full complement of games from coast to coast.
The action even starts Wednesday night, with an in-state battle between Bill Clark's UAB Blazers program and Football Championship Subdivision power Jacksonville State, a playoff participant in the FCS' spring season.
Perhaps, however, one of the most compelling matchups is lurking beneath the spotlight out west.
Upstart San Jose State, which has surged under coach Brent Brennan, gets an opportunity for a statement-game against storied brand and 15th-ranked USC.
Brennan's Spartans are coming off a 45-14 shellacking of Southern Utah in which the Spartans scored all their points by five minutes into the third quarter.
They're led by former SEC quarterback Nick Starkel, a second-year graduate-transfer at San Jose State who previously played at both Arkansas and Texas A&M.
All Starkel did in the opener was throw for 394 yards, four scores and added a rushing touchdown.
Brennan was perhaps most pleased with the program depth his team showcased on the day. Twenty-eight different Spartans recorded at least one tackle; 14 different offensive players logged either a rushing attempt or a pass reception.
“I think as you get healthier as a football program, you have more guys that can play,” said Brennan, whose program is 8-1 in its last nine games and won the Mountain West Conference last fall. “More guys that are capable of positively impacting the football game. The beautiful thing about where we're at right now with our team is we have an unselfish group. They understand that they have to share those opportunities until somebody clearly establishes themselves as the man at their position.
“We're going to continue to roll guys and give other guys chances to make plays. It's important those other guys play, so if we have injuries, graduation, natural matriculation, you need other guys ready to play. As much as those second group guys, third group guys can get on the field, there's no substitute for playing football. Like, you have to play the game.”
Brennan admitted, despite the opener against Southern Utah, the outside noise already had centered on this week's showdown with the Trojans.
“USC is that team everybody grew up watching, they've always been incredible,” he said. “They're well-coached, they have awesome personnel. Lost one game a year ago, right? Lost in their conference championship. They have a first-round (NFL) Draft pick at quarterback. Draft picks at every position. How do we get ready for that? To me, it's day by day. Take it slow and focus on the process. …
“It's been hard because we had this game, and media, their family, cousins, uncles, all they want to talk about is the SC game, but you can't do that if you don't handle this business against Southern Utah.”
OTHER WEEKEND TAKEAWAYS
Hawaii was badly overmatched, but UCLA might have issued a message with its 44-10 win against its guests. The Bruins this week host LSU, and it's sure to be an emotional night in the Rose Bowl. UCLA this weekend is hosting a celebration of life for former late, great coach Terry Donahue.
Donahue won 151 games atop the Bruins' program and led some of the program's greatest moments. He had battled cancer.
Former players, staffers and other members of the program are expected back this weekend in Los Angeles to celebrate Donahue's life.
The Bruins host LSU in an intersectional game full of intrigue on both sides.
It's a pivotal fourth season for Chip Kelly at UCLA while Ed Orgeron has more new assistant coaches than returning ones after last season's 5-5 disappointment followed up the Tigers' 2019 tour de force.