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Five biggest pre-Saturday winners

Some teams got to celebrate success early—and Illinois almost did it twice!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 West Virginia at Pitt Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In less than an hour college football will be fully kicked off, with the full slate of Week 1 underway in the first Saturday of September. They will hardly be the first games, however, as all week long we enjoyed appetizers before the main course. Last Saturday Northwestern delivered an upset in Ireland against Nebraska that put yet another strain on Scott Frost’s already extremely fragile job security, and Illinois decided to get ahead of everybody and played not only last week against Wyoming but also last night against Indiana. Showoffs. It also might’ve backfired because they narrowly lost to IU in the 4th quarter. So many other teams have started their seasons off with a bang as well: Old Dominion beat just its second Power 5 team in school history last night, Penn State won on the road against Purdue Thursday, and Kansas won a football game by 46 points to be 1-0 while Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and Ohio State are all still 0-0. Enjoy that for another couple hours.

Here are, in my humble opinion, the five biggest winners of the early season so far:

5. Penn State

Here’s a good season opener idea for a team with lots of expectations: start on the road against conference foe that went 9-4 and won the Music City bowl. Quite a test indeed, and not for the faint of heart, but they passed it with a 35-31 victory Thursday night. I reckon they’ll be ranked this Tuesday.

4. Northwestern

The Wildcats each year are either an 8-or-9 win team that surprises everyone or a 3-9 train wreck, and I think their win in Ireland over Nebraska was them gearing up for another 8-or-9 win season. Or maybe 4 wins. We’ll see.

3. Indiana

This one had to feel good. After a spectacular breakthrough 2020 season, the Hoosiers cratered last year going 2-10 and losing all their Big Ten games. But thanks to a 1-yard TD run with 0:23 left that Big Ten losing streak is over and IU is 1-0 with a home win they’ll be hard-pressed to find more of in the conference. This one might be the difference between 6-6 and 5-7 in a few months.

2. Old Dominion

The Monarchs had only ever beaten one Power 5 school before last night, stunning a ranked Virginia Tech squad in 2018. Then last night they beat another one. It was Virginia Tech...again. I just checked the Hokies’ future nonconference schedules and they’ll be playing Old Dominion every year until 2031. Uh-oh.

1. Pittsburgh

The Panthers started the post-Kenny Pickett days with a big opening win against West Virginia in the long-awaited return of the Backyard Brawl thanks to a “Pitt-Six” late in the 4th quarter that broke a 31-all tie. The Panthers scheduled big this year, with next week’s bout being a showdown with the Tennessee Volunteers in the Steel City before going on the road against Western Michigan. We’ll see how those go, but for now enjoy a rivalry win in a thrilling game that might’ve been more fun than some of the NFL’s Thursday night games!