- Ivan Maisel, ESPN Senior Writer
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- We pontificate and analyze and study for months, and then the games start, and we find out how much we don't know. We write and speak with good intentions. We're as excited about the season getting here as you are.
But then, like most newborns, it acts nothing like imagined. Little 2014 has a mind of its own, and already we see the darling barely resembles our expectations.
We thought Florida State was invincible, and it's not.
We thought the SEC would hang on to its predominance, and it didn't.
We thought UCLA would resemble a top-five team, and we didn't see it. In fact, we thought the Pac-12 might be the best conference in the nation, and -- oh, wait a minute, we might have gotten that one right.
It's August, not November, and we are trying to solve big puzzles with small clues.
All that practice, all those meetings, all that information has to be synthesized and turned into efficient, crisp football. History tells us we don't see a lot of that on Labor Day weekend. But who remembers history when there's a new season to embrace?
No. 21 Texas A&M kicked off the season by looking all grown up and embarrassing No. 9 South Carolina 52-28. But the Aggies proved to be the anomaly. No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 15 USC dominated overmatched foes.
No. 2 Alabama looked exactly like Florida State and against a similar opponent, and they defeated West Virginia, 33-23. Those games might have been won on the past couple national signing days. When neither team is executing well, talent rules the day. It might wait until the fourth quarter, when minds are tired and precision is an elusive goal. No. 5 Ohio State and No. 13 LSU eventually found a way to beat Navy and No. 14 Wisconsin, respectively.
Florida State, which returned 14 starters from a team that went 14-0, jumped out to a 17-0 lead. Oklahoma State had 12 players who had won more than one letter. The Cowboys have the least experience of any team in the Autonomous Five, the Other Five or The Dave Clark Five.
"They did not play like the least experienced team," Seminoles free safety Jalen Ramsey said of the Cowboys. "They're a really good team. Give a lot of credit. They came out, and they fought. They're very athletic. They're big. They didn't play inexperienced at all."
Well, maybe they did in the beginning.
"The first quarter, the other team was really strong and really fast," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "And I don't really know how you prepare them for that."
Oklahoma State settled down. Junior Tyreek Hill showed why he is a Big 12 sprint champion. He finished with 278 all-purpose yards.
"We dominated the first quarter. It's not a 15-minute game," Florida State defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said. "It's a 60-minute game. ... Maybe we got a little comfortable after the first quarter. We can do this. We can do that. We kind of fell back from what we were supposed to be doing."
This game should have been over. It was not. Asked to describe what happened, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston said: "I threw a pick."
The reigning Heisman winner illustrated how opening weekend distorts all that we thought leading up to it. In the first quarter, Winston completed nine of 10 passes for 110 yards. In the second quarter, he completed five of 12 passes for 88 yards with two interceptions. In his 15-game collegiate career, Winston had never thrown two picks in a quarter.
The first turnover came in the red zone, a shining example of how this season's team is different from the one that went 14-0 a year ago. In 73 trips to the opponent's 20-yard line or closer last season, Florida State scored 71 times. After Oklahoma State corner Ashton Lampkin intercepted Winston at the Cowboys' 6 early in the second quarter, the Seminoles stood 1-of-2 in the red zone.
Winston apologized to his teammates in the halftime locker room. He implored them to play better. He finished with 370 passing yards, padded by the 50-yard touchdown to senior Rashad Greene that gave the Seminoles a 37-24 lead late in the fourth quarter. Greene caught 11 of Winston's 25 completions. But Greene didn't like sticking to the newborn theme.
"I wouldn't say [I'm the] safety blanket," Greene said. "At the end of the day, I need my teammates. We need to do this together."
Fisher thinks the drumbeat of the past eight months, yes, the fruits of all that offseason research, bore down on his team. They believed they didn't have the luxury of being a newborn even as Fisher told them, over and over again, that the past season had ended.
"I think they felt the pressure of being No. 1," Fisher said. "I really do. Now I think we can relax and go play football."
Those words will be heard in the meeting room of every team that watches video of its opening game. They don't have their legs under them yet. They've only practiced for four weeks and played one game. But they are being measured against the picture the public has in its mind's eye. One game usually doesn't measure up to eight months of expectations.
Florida State's performance is a caution to those who thought one place in the College Football Playoff was already booked.