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 NEW YORK (AP) -Another Clemson flop. A banged up Beanie. Sputtering spreads from Ann Arbor to Seattle.
The first college football Saturday was one to forget for the Atlantic Coast Conference and the first truly memorable day of the Nick Saban-era at Alabama.
Here's what we learned:
The Big Story
Oh, Clemson. How you Tigers love to tease.
This was the supposed to be the season, right. The one when Tommy Bowden's Clemson Tigers - with their fancy Thunder and Lightning tailbacks (James Davis and C.J. Spiller), their ACC preseason player of the year (QB Cullen Harper) and their scary freshman pass rusher (Da'Quan Bowers) - would put it all together and make a run at the national title.
Well, Clemson's national championship hopes got shelved before the white shoes went into storage for the winter.
The ninth-ranked Tigers got pushed around by No. 24 Alabama, 34-10.
Clemson fans have learned to expect disappointment, especially during Bowden's schizophrenic 10-year tenure. So many times the planets appear to be aligning for Clemson, right before the world comes crashing down on Howard's Rock.
So Clemson's season can now go two ways.
There's an Atlantic Coast Conference title still out there for the Tigers taking. If Clemson's preparing for the Orange Bowl with an 12-1 record in December, the debacle in the Georgia Dome will be spun by the Tigers as a rallying point.
Or somewhere along the road to their first ACC title game, maybe after winning six or seven straight games and getting their fans' hopes up again, the Tigers will stumble and even that dream will fade away.
Given the history, and what went on Saturday night in Atlanta, which one of these scenarios seems more likely?
Ouch!
-Missouri's Jeremy Maclin twisted his ankle in the Tigers' 52-42 victory over Illinois. Before the injury, Maclin returned a kick 99 yards for a touchdown and had a 45-yard punt return. Coach Gary Pinkel didn't seem too worried about his do-it-all receiver. If Maclin needs time to heal, he can rest while the Tigers play Southeast Missouri, Nevada and Buffalo over the next three weeks.
-Ohio State's Chris ``Beanie'' Wells went down with a foot injury in a 43-0 win over Youngstown State. Ohio State is still in wait-and-see mode, but Wells doesn't have as much time as Maclin to heal. Up this week for the Buckeyes is Ohio. The next week it's off to USC.
Making a statement
-Roll Tide! The $4 million man is going to be a factor in the Southeastern Conference race sooner rather than later. Coach Nick Saban's crew is probably too inexperienced to win the Western Division this year, but rest assured Clemson will not be the only team Alabama upsets this season.
-Mark Sanchez: college football's next superstar. One good game against Virginia won't win anybody a Heisman Trophy (especially this Virginia team), but Sanchez reminded everyone why coming out of high school he was being compared to John Elway by slicing up the Cavaliers for 338 yards and three TDs.
Spread' em
-From the department of square pegs and round holes, we present Michigan's offense. The first result of the Rich Rodriguez-era was a 25-23 loss to Utah. The spread slogged its way to 203 yards. Sure it was ugly, but please remember that the Wolverines lost Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Mario Manningham and Jake Long to the NFL. No matter who was coaching them, no matter what offense they were running, 2008 was going to be a reloading year for Michigan.
-Michigan's wasn't the only sluggish spread on opening day. Auburn's passed for 85 yards out of it's new scheme. ``We stink, and it's my fault,'' Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin said. Of course the Tigers ran for 321 yards while shutting out Louisiana-Monroe 34-0. Washington State wasn't so lucky with its spread in coach Paul Wulff's debut. The Cougars managed 196 yards in a 39-13 loss to Oklahoma State.
Worst debut for new coach
M Aggies 14. ``Am I discouraged? No, I'm not discouraged,'' Sherman said. ``But I am disappointed. I expected to win at home.''
Second-worst debut for new coach
Bobby Petrino's Arkansas Razorbacks needed a late rally to beat Western Illinois, 28-24. ``Whoo,'' Petrino said. ``That was a lot closer than we anticipated.'' No doubt there were a lot of Leathernecks fans in Louisville and Atlanta.
And another thing about Clemson
The Tigers' loss was another gut shot to the ACC, following Virginia Tech's 27-22 loss to East Carolina earlier in the day. The ACC's national reputation is abysmal right now, which is why, even if Clemson goes undefeated in the ACC, it's not going to erase the memory of 34-10 Alabama in the minds of poll voters.
Heisman-worthy performances
-Shun White, Navy, rushed for a school-record 348 yards on just 19 carries (18.3 per carry) in a 41-13 victory over Towson. White smashed Eddie Meyers' record of 298 set in 1981 against Syracuse.
-Damion Fletcher, Southern Miss, ran for 222 yards and two touchdowns and the Eagles gave coach Larry Fedora a victory in his debut, 51-21 over Louisiana-Lafayette.
Say what?
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt elected to punt from the Bowling Green 35 and 34 early in what turned out to be a disappointing 27-17 loss for the No. 25 Panthers, who entered the season as a trendy pick for a breakout year.
The conservative play calling didn't seem to go over well with Pitt star LeSean McCoy.
``It would have been nice to get a touchdown but, you know, we follow the leader,'' McCoy said.
What's next?
The week before the best week of the season has few intriguing matchups, but the best should be in Gainesville, Fla., where Miami will get to see how its rebuilding is going against Tim Tebow and the No. 5 Florida Gators. If the Hurricanes can stay within three touchdowns, they should be encouraged.
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Ralph D. Russo covers college football for The Associated Press. Write to him at rrussoap.org.

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