Clemson’s potential, Texas A&M’s issues open eyes on opening weekend

Officially, college football’s five-night opening weekend does not conclude until Monday’s matchup between Pittsburgh and No. 11 Florida State.

In that one, fans will get their first look at Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston, a redshirt freshman and Texas Rangers draft pick considered a candidate for a breakout season.

We’ll begin learning about Winston and his dual-threat talents Monday (7 p.m., ESPN). But here are some knee-jerk conclusions you can take to the bank with most openers in the books for the 2013 season:

• Make room for No. 8 Clemson (1-0) on your list of national championship contenders from leagues outside the SEC. The Tigers’ 38-35 victory over No. 5 Georgia validated their status and boosted the Heisman Trophy hopes of QB Tajh Boyd. Going back to last year’s bowl game, Clemson’s last two victories (LSU, Georgia) have come against SEC heavyweights in high-profile settings. And the Tigers’ remaining schedule is friendly, with the only Top 25 matchups against No. 11 Florida State (Oct. 19) and No. 6 South Carolina (Nov. 30).

• Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman winner, must gain better control of his game-day emotions than he displayed in Saturday’s 52-31 victory over Rice. But what the Aggies really need to fix is a leaky run defense that surrendered 306 rushing yards (6.0 per carry) to the Owls.

• The race to be the best quarterback in the Big 12 is wide open after two notable names (TCU’s Casey Pachall, Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf) were benched in favor of backups in season openers. Chelf already has lost his starting gig to J.W. Walsh, a Denton Guyer grad. Don’t be shocked if a first-year starter (Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight) or oft-maligned Texas QB David Ash emerges as the clear choice by November.

• Scratch No. 19 Boise State as an elite bowl contender in the final season of the BCS after the Broncos were trounced, 38-6, by unranked Washington. Replace Boise with fellow Mountain West member Fresno State, but only if the Bulldogs’ defense improves in the wake of a 52-51 overtime victory over Rutgers.

• Five FCS schools, all ranked among the nation’s top 21 teams in that subdivision, are laughing all the way to the bank after victories over FBS opponents in games scheduled to balance budgets for the smaller programs: North Dakota State over Kansas State, Northern Iowa over Iowa State, Towson over Connecticut, Eastern Washington over No. 25 Oregon State and Eastern Illinois over San Diego State. If that weren’t enough, two more unranked FCS schools (McNeese State over South Florida; Southern Utah over South Alabama) toppled FBS teams. This week’s notable “top 10” matchup: No. 7 Texas A&M (1-0) meets Sam Houston State (1-0), the No. 4 team in FCS poll.

• The Big 12 is the only league in the country that can claim its teams are batting .500 in matchups against opponents from the powerful SEC (1-1) and the lower-tier FCS (2-2). Let’s call that a mixed blessing, at best.

• Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield, a true freshman, is the most accomplished walk-on player in the country (413 passing yards, four TD passes, one rushing TD in 41-23 win over SMU). If I’m coach Kliff Kingsbury, I remove the “walk-on” tag ASAP. Mayfield has more than earned a scholarship.

• Biggest under-the-radar win for a Texas school: UTSA, a third-year program making the jump to Conference USA this season, rallied from a 13-0 deficit to knock off New Mexico, 21-13, in Albuquerque. The Roadrunners (1-0), coached by Larry Coker, were picked to finish last in their division by pundits and get their first high-profile home game in program history Saturday when No. 13 Oklahoma State (1-0) heads to San Antonio.

• Don’t be fooled by the “struggles” of top-ranked Alabama, which was not sharp offensively in a 35-10 victory over Virginia Tech. The Crimson Tide, idle this week before a Sept. 14 matchup at No. 7 Texas A&M, is saving all of its creative ideas and fresh wrinkles for its trip to College Station.

• Beware of the rebuilt Oklahoma defense, which pitched a surprising shutout against a Louisiana-Monroe team that features a dangerous, dual-threat quarterback in Kolton Browning. No. 16 Oklahoma, a 34-0 winner, apparently answered a lot of lingering questions about its suspect front seven during fall drills.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram