Four Downs on Opening Night: Turnover Beads and Record Setters

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Sideline swag, GIF-worthy moments, monumental mess-ups, photo finishes and fanfare: College football is back, and it feels like it never really left.

FIRST DOWN: LOAD UP THAT HIGHLIGHT REEL

Thursday offered 23 total Div. I games; not quite a full docket, but it provided enough good stuff to fill a highlight reel.

I’ll let the images do the talking.

Britain Covey had the night’s best play that officially counted; UCF’s Gabe Davis had what might go down as the season’s very best wiped-out play.

The speed of Purdue’s Rondale Moore, coupled with the blocking tenacity of teammate Terry Wright, produced this touchdown …

… which is more than worthy of a toast from Boilermakers alum Kyle Orton.

Moore had a near record-setting debut for a Big Ten freshman. His was one of two noteworthy running back performances on opening night.

And, while I know I referenced Div. I games above, Four Downs would be remiss if it did not include this beauty out of Div. II.

SECOND DOWN: UPSET COUNTRY

Opening night of the college football season doubled as opening night for in-conference competition within the Colonial Athletic Association. A pair of Top 15-ranked teams from the CAA lost to unranked league opponents, with Maine routing No. 3 New Hampshire to stake claim to the Brice-Cowell Musket for the first time since 2010.

The Brice-Cowell Musket is one of the rivalry trophies spotlighted in my feature at Athlon Sports. Give it a read, won’t you?

The bigger shock may have come in Rhode Island’s 21-19 defeat of No. 15 Delaware. Rhody is a longstanding CAA cellar-dweller that, earlier this decade, flirted with a move to the partial-scholarship Northeast Conference. The Rams finished just 3-8 a season ago, but their stunner of the Blue Hens Thursday suggests the CAA has yet another tough out.

Colonial or Missouri Valley has been a common debate in FCS circles over recent years — and, with North Dakota State’s stockpile of national championships, the MVFC has the hardware to back up the claim. But at both the top and now, its apparent depth, the Colonial may well be the best top-to-bottom FCS conference.

THIRD DOWN: FCS-OVER-FBS COUNTER = 1

UC Davis ended opening night in a shootout with woeful San Jose State that saw the Aggies put up nearly 600 yards of offense. 

An 0-12 campaign for the poor Spartans seems likely, and their plight ensured the Football Championship Subdivision would not have a goose egg through the first two days with games.

But, wow, has it ever been close.

Rice needed to force some late-game turnovers to complete its rally past Prairie View A&M on Week 0 Saturday. That set a precedent that carried over into opening night.

Thursday featured a pair of similar near-miss FCS-over-FBS upsets: Kennesaw State led much of the way against Georgia State, needing only a first down with possession and a little more than two minutes remaining. Southeastern Louisiana and UL-Monroe exchanged scores in one of those contests that had that “last one with possession wins” feel; and that was exactly the case, with the Warhawks punching in an 11-yard Caleb Evans touchdown with 11 seconds remaining.

FOURTH DOWN: IT’S SO GOOD TO HAVE FOOTBALL BACK

I love college football, and have for a long time. I acknowledge its flaws, and attempt to use my place covering the spot, small as it may be, to draw attention and remedy these flaws.

A couple years ago, however, I worried my love was waning. The ugliness of the 2016 presidential campaign cast a palpable unhappiness that seeped into all phases of culture; and it still lingers. I did not feel quite the same enthusiasm during the 2016 season as I for years and years past.

Becoming as engrossed in the sport now is also more difficult than it was in college and my early adulthood. Being a father and doing it (hopefully) well requires sacrifices like giving up the multiple-screen college football setup so your toddler can watch Thomas & Friends; only being able to peek out of the corner of your eye while coloring Spider-Man pages; and missing long stretches of games for preschool Back to School Night.

Make no mistake, it’s a winning trade-off. But for me, when FOMO kicks in, it turns into anxiety.

Some of my love for college football is rooted in nostalgia. Great college football moments last in my mind’s eye for years, and when I reflect on them, they’re woven into the larger snapshot of my life at that time. It’s one reason I so enjoy writing the Throwback Thursday column here at The Open Man.

Gone for me are the days of having a four-TV setup with multiple VCRs running, as I’d put together in my college apartment bedroom in the fall of 2005. The game’s no less a part of my life now, though: It’s just different. And it’s better.

For example, this spring I had my first magazine cover feature, fulfilling a goal I had dating back to J-school. My deadline was set for a few weeks prior to the due date of my second son. Plenty of time.

Yeah … Not how it works.

Instead, I brought my laptop to the hospital and, in those precious few instances when wife and baby caught sleep, I plugged away. The publication of that magazine feature may have fulfilled a goal, but that’s secondary to the grander memory to which it’s now tied. Whenever I look at this magazine, I’ll be inherently reminded of Jack’s first days of life.

The subject matter now feels downright serendipitous.

I would not posit that growing more confident as a parent has rekindled my love for college football; the love never dissipated. Gaining more parental confidence has, however, helped me more fully appreciate the joys of the sport.

The college football season is the shortest in sports. Years fly by now; the three months of the football campaign pass in a flash. We have to cherish this time.

I share my experiences not because I find myself especially interesting, nor to turn The Open Man into Live Journal (remember Live Journal?). Rather, my unique experiences share a commonality with the unique experiences of anyone who loves this silly game.

Ultimately, we return every autumn because of the memories, because of the excitement, because of the fun. At a time when the world around us is increasingly hostile, there’s something comforting in the joyful simplicity of Turnover Beads.