College Football Week 1 takeaways: Georgia still looks like No. 1, USC is Pac-12's best hope for College Football Playoff

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Oregon quarterback Bo Nix's pass sailed high on fourth-and-goal with 1:22 remaining. Georgia linebacker Marvin Jones Jr. raised his arms in celebration. Georgia coach Kirby Smart pumped his fist. The Bulldogs' fans went wild.

The score was 49-3 at that point. The message? Don't pencil in No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Ohio State for this year's College Football Playoff championship yet. Last year's national champion will have something to say about it. No. 3 Georgia made the loudest Week 1 statement in that blowout against No. 11 Oregon in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game on Saturday. 

It wasn't that Georgia did it – the Bulldogs were a 17.5-point favorite against the Ducks. It was how they did it. In this blowout, a dominant defense was the sidebar. 

MORE: Bulldogs dominate in wire-to-wire rout of Ducks

Did you see Georgia's offense? The Bulldogs scored seven TDs on their first seven possessions and didn't punt until the fourth quarter. There is no complacency in Athens, Ga., and the offense is terrifying.  

No more questions about Stetson Bennett, please. He hit 25 of 31 passes for 368 yards – an average of 14.7 yards per completion – with two TDs and no interceptions. He's on a three-game heater dating back to last year's College Football Playoff. In the wins against Michigan, Alabama and Oregon, he averaged 301.7 passing yards with seven TDS and no interceptions. Seven different Georgia players caught a pass of 20 yards or more. How can you not respect Bennett at this point? 

The running game and defense haven't dropped off either. The Bulldogs allowed 313 total yards  with new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp in a statement victory with Oregon coach and former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning on the other sideline. 

The Ducks had a chance to score a TD in the final minutes in a goal-to-go situation, but the Bulldogs turned them away there, too. Smart was pulling the headset up and down. 

Will this bump the Bulldogs up in the AP Poll? Alabama beat Utah State 55-0, and Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young had 195 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and six total TDs. Ohio State flashed a new-look Jim Knowles-led defense that will pair beautifully with the offense in a 21-10 victory against No. 5 Notre Dame. These are the three best teams in the FBS, and there is a gap. 

Georgia, however, is anything but a bystander for Alabama-Ohio State. This is very much a three-horse race at the top. 

Help us USC, you're our only hope 

Of the 16 games involving FBS teams in the Top 25, the favorites were 15-1 in Week 1 (not counting Clemson's matchup against Georgia Tech on Monday. 

No. 7 Utah was the only loser in a 29-26 thriller at The Swamp against Florida. Anthony Richardson had 264 total yards (168 pass, 106 rush), and his 1-yard TD with 1:25 remaining doomed the Utes. It was an almost even game, but a Gators' goal-line stand in the third quarter and a goal-line interception in the fourth were missed opportunities for Utah. 

Combine that with Oregon's blowout loss, and the Pac-12 did not have a great weekend. These were spotlight games for a conference whose offseason featured losing USC and UCLA to the Big Ten, and the Utes and Ducks were perceived to be the best bets to break a conference-wide College Football Playoff drought that extends back to 2016. 

You know what comes next. 

USC is the focus now. The Trojans beat Rice 66-14 in Lincoln Riley's debut as head coach, and Oklahoma transfer Caleb Williams came as advertised. He hit 19 of 22 passes for 249 yards and two TDs, and he added 66 rushing yards. USC scored TDs on seven of nine possessions and punted one time.

A Week 1 offensive explosion was almost as predictable as the Trojans getting bumped into the top 10 in the Week 2 AP Poll ahead of next week's prime-time showdown with Stanford, which trounced the Trojans 42-28 and led to Clay Helton's firing last season. 

A year later, USC is the Pac-12's best playoff hope. Funny how that works. 

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Notre Dame will get more chances 

Notre Dame had a 10-7 halftime lead at Ohio State, but the Irish fell short yet again against a top-5 opponent. 

"We've got to get better," Freeman said.

We've got to learn how to finish. We've got a good football team. We've got to learn how to finish. And that's what I just told them. You can't be surprised when all of a sudden, it's a 10-7 ballgame midway through the third quarter against a really, really good football team. Don't be surprised. That's got to be the expectation for this group.

The Irish could still get back in the College Football Playoff mix, but the loss to the Buckeyes was indicative of the same old trends from the Brian Kelly era. 

MORE: Ohio State uses the Jim Tressel formula to grind out victory over No. 5 Notre Dame

The Irish were 1-7 against top-five teams and 3-10 against top-10 teams under Kelly. Freeman is now 0-2 against top-10 teams. Notre Dame lost 37-35 to No. 9 Oklahoma State in Freeman's first game at the Fiesta Bowl last season. This is all part of the job description in South Bend. 

Notre Dame's next shot at a ranked opponent will either be at North Carolina (Sept. 24) or in Las Vegas against BYU (Oct. 8). The Irish need Clemson (Nov. 5) and USC (Nov. 26) to keep winning, too. 

Who is the Group of 5 buster now? 

No. 19 Arkansas defeated No. 23 Cincinnati 31-24, meaning the Bearcats aren't going back to the College Football Playoff in 2022. That's not to say Cincinnati can't return to the New Year's Day Six, but that is a complicated path. 

Who is the best Group of 5 buster now? 

No. 24 Houston survived a triple-overtime thriller with a 37-35 victory against UTSA, which was capped by Clayton Tune's front-flip into the end zone. 

Grayson McCall, who opted to stay at Coastal Carolina, led the Chanticleers to a 38-28 victory against Army. Coastal Carolina does not play a Power 5 opponent until they get Virginia on Nov. 19. 

Air Force also is worth watching. The Falcons rushed for 582 yards in the season opener; a 48-17 victory against Northern Iowa. 

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Let's get biblical! 

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh attracted attention this week when he said the QB decision between Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy would be "biblical" in nature. But you have to go back to Big Ten Media Days for how this might play out over the next few weeks. 

"The really cool stat on Cade McNamara is over 50 percent of his drives end in points," Harbaugh said. "I don't know exactly what the number is for J.J., but it seems like every time he got in there and led a drive, it ended in points as well."

No. 8 Michigan beat Colorado State 51-7, and McNamara (9 of 18, 136 yards, TD) got the start. In the first half, five of Michigan's seven drives resulted in points – but the Wolverines settled for field goals in the red zone on three of those drives. McNamara was 1 of 6 for four yards in the red zone and was nearly intercepted. McNamara also admitted to being taken back by Harbaugh's QB plan. 

"I mean, it's been fine," McNamara said via MLive.com.

I think at this point, I have a callus made on how to deal with these things.

McNamara's only drive in the second half also resulted in a touchdown, but McCarthy was the one who finished it with a 20-yard TD run. McCarthy then led two more TD drives to close out the Rams, though Alan Bowman and Alex Orji mopped up on the last drive. McCarthy, who finished 4 of 4 for 30 yards and added three carries for 50 yards, gets the start against Hawaii in Week 2.

This might not be a "biblical" decision for long. If it's a business decision, then McCarthy could be the starter at some point this season. 

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Quick hits 

- Mel Tucker might have struck in the transfer portal again, this time on the defensive side. UNLV transfer Jacoby Windmon had four sacks for No. 15 Michigan State in a 35-13 victory against Western Michigan on Friday. The Big Ten single-season record is 16.5, set by Ohio State's Chase Young in 2019. Michigan's Aidan Hutchinson had 14 sacks last season. 

- North Carolina beat Appalachian State in a 63-61 shootout in which 62 points were scored in the fourth quarter.  That is the headline, but the hidden takeaway is North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye is on fire. In two games, Maye averaged 323 yards, completed 72.6% of his passes and had nine TDs with zero interceptions. 

- Miami scored 70 points in Mario Cristobal's debut against Bethune-Cookman; the most of any team in Week 1. The Hurricanes should take care of business in Week 2 against Southern Miss, which would set up a beauty against No. 6 Texas A&M in Week 3. 

Week 2 preview 

- Iowa and South Dakota State combined for 286 total yards of offense in a game the Hawkeyes won 7-3 – with the help of two safeties. Spencer Petras hit 11 of 25 passes for 109 yards and an interception. The Hawkeyes have won the last six meetings against rival Iowa State, a streak that is in jeopardy in Week 2. 

- Texas' Quinn Ewers will be in the spotlight against Alabama. Ewers passed for 225 yards, two TDs and an interception in a 52-10 victory against Louisiana-Monroe. This is the ultimate test for Ewers, but when in doubt just get Bijan Robinson the ball. The junior running back had 10 touches for 141 yards and two TDs. Can former Texas offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian make it interesting against Nick Saban? 

- Spencer Rattler passed for 227 yards and a TD in his South Carolina debut; a 35-14 victory against Georgia State. Rattler vs. KJ Jefferson and Arkansas in Fayetteville is worth it. Is that a better quarterback matchup than Will Levis vs. Richardson in Kentucky-Florida? 

- We profiled Washington State's Cameron Ward as a Heisman sleeper before the season. Ward passed for 215 yards and three TDs in a 24-17 victory against Idaho, which was a modest debut. Ward gets his chance to show out against No. 18 Wisconsin in Week 2. 

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Bill Bender is a national college football writer for The Sporting News.
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