Nations: Openers set tone for big Week 2

Did you get your college football fix this weekend? Check out a game, or two, or 10?

There was a lot to like for fans following the big state teams, that’s for certain. Virginia opened its season with an energizing home victory over Brigham Young. James Madison took care of business at home against Central Connecticut State. Old Dominion had a respectable showing in its first-ever game against an FBS opponent, falling 52-38 in a back-and-forth contest with East Carolina in front of the largest crowd the Monarchs have ever played in front of for football.

And Virginia Tech? Hey, it could have been worse. Yes, the Hokies dropped a 35-10 decision to No. 1-ranked and two-time defending national champion Alabama last Saturday in Atlanta — no shocker there. But the Hokies didn’t embarrass themselves, at least defensively, showing signs that coach Frank Beamer’s program should still make some noise in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

So for the most part, good stuff for Virginia’s college football fans. Of course, all that success — or near success, or avoidance of humiliation depending on your particular allegiances — simply amps up the following week’s schedule.

Start with the Cavaliers, who had to be looking at the schedule before the season wondering if Week 2 would be their ‘Alabama moment.’ High-powered Oregon, currently ranked No. 2 in the country following a typically Ducks-like dismantling of FCS fodder Nicholls State in new coach Mark Helfrich’s debut.

No one is expecting a repeat of Oregon’s 66-3 beatdown against the Cavs in Charlottesville, but expecting Virginia to pull off the upset is probably asking a bit much. Virginia, breaking in new starting quarterback David Watford, rallied past BYU for a thrilling 19-16 victory. Virginia managed just 223 yards of total offense, though, and that doesn’t look like nearly enough to keep pace with the Ducks’ frenetic offense. Barring a major upset — and that looks more likely now than it might have a week ago — it could be a long afternoon at Scott Stadium for the Cavs and their fans. Not all losses are created equal, though, and a solid follow-up effort by coach Mike London’s squad would preserve a lot of those positive vibes floating around campus.

Virginia Tech goes from one extreme to another, having endured the powerful Crimson Tide on the road, to now hosting their own FCS opponent in Western Carolina. It goes without saying, the Hokies had better win this one. Three years ago, after a similarly big opener against No. 3 Boise State (a 33-30 loss), Virginia Tech got caught napping in it home opener against an FCS upstart. JMU knocked off the 13th-ranked Hokies, 21-16, nearly wrecking the season. Virginia Tech did wake up after that, winning 11 straight including the ACC Championship game before losing to Stanford in the Orange Bowl, so there’s always hope.

The Dukes, 38-14 winners in Harrisonburg last Saturday, will reprise that role as potential FBS spoilers Saturday when they hit the road to face Akron. JMU unleashed a powerful running game in its home opener, rolling up 247 yards and a pair of rushing touchdowns. The defense looked good, holding Central Connecticut to 261 yards of total offense while picking off a pair of passes, including Taylor Reynolds’ 51-yard interception return for a touchdown. JMU’s Dae’Quan Scott, who finished with 197 all-purpose yards including a 54-yard punt return for a touchdown, was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s Special Teams Player of the Week and Reynolds landed the CAA’s Rookie of the Week honors following the Dukes’ season-opening win. Despite playing up a level, JMU could well give the Zips all the can handle on Saturday. Akron, coached by Terry Bowden, dropped a 37-8 decision to Central Florida in its opener last Thursday in Orlando, Fla.

Old Dominion, transitioning from FCS to FBS status and full-fledged Conference USA status next season, displayed a flashy passing game with junior quarterback Taylor Heinicke (38-of-51 for 338 yards, three TDs) running the offense. The Monarchs get another shot at notching that first victory against an FBS opponent on Saturday against Maryland in College Park, Md.

Closer to home, Shenandoah University ushers in the Scott Yoder era when the Hornets host Gallaudet in Saturday night’s season opener. SU is coming off a dreadful debut season in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, but the new coaching staff has made major changes in an effort to make the Hornets more competitive. Shenandoah will feature a new spread offense, a new 4-4 base defense, new uniforms and plenty of renewed excitement after suffering through last year’s 1-9 campaign that included an 0-7 mark against ODAC opponents. Picking up a ‘W’ in the opener at Shentel Stadium would go a long way towards solidifying and expanding all that enthusiasm.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>