Here we are, coming off a slate of games that seemed like it would be rather slow but proved to be not only a lot of fun but revealing as well. Maybe a better term is “exposing” because several teams were absolutely exposed.
The big news of the week is that somehow, inexplicably, we went 5-0 on our picks again. Not sure how many pundits nationwide can say they’ve picked every single game correctly so far, but…
So this week, we’re going to see if we can make things more challenging. But before that, the myths:
Georgia Is Back, Baby!
To back this up, most Georgia fans went off their narrow victory over North Carolina in Week One. If you’re a devotee of call-in sports talk shows like we are (talking about you, Paul Finebaum), Georgia had already won the national championship, had the greatest quarterback of all time, and had the best coach in the country. Last Saturday was supposed to be a rehearsal for the coronation against FCS opponent Nicholls State. After all, in 2015, Nicholls State went 3-8 overall, 3-6 in the Southland Conference, and generally was an execrable football team.
But when it was time for the Dawgs’ self-crowning last Saturday, Nicholls State didn’t want to play along, making the jubilant Dawgs fall straight into fanatic la-la land. In the end Georgia eked out a humiliating 26-24 victory behind a devastatingly poor offensive performance that made their future opponents’ defensive backs salivate as if they were taking part in a Pavlovian exercise. Georgia OC Jim Chaney had a poor offensive game plan that resulted in all-everything RB Nick Chubb getting only 80 yards; freshman QB Jacob Eason was benched in the second half; and Kirby Smart didn’t look all that smart.
Here’s the thing, Georgia fans: you do have a good team. But Mark Richt’s firing last year precipitated a crisis of talent in key, unheralded positions that you might not have considered. While Eason is undoubtedly the QB of the future, he is just a freshman, and Kirby Smart is a debut head coach. The Dawgs have plenty of reasons to be excited about the future, but the present season will have growing pains.
There’s No Way The Battle at Bristol Will Work
Wrong, fanatics. It worked beautifully. And while the stadium was about 80% Tennessee and 20% Viriginia Tech, the sheer spectacle was Americana at its epic, showy best. The game was a bit of a blowout, but the real domination was undertaken by the staffs at Bristol Motor Speedway, the University of Tennessee, and Virgina Tech who combined to give a world record 156,990 fans an incredible football experience. Now we wait for Michigan and Penn State to try and take that attendance crown from UT, in a flashback to the seating wars of the 1990s. Well done, BMS.
TCU Is The Best Big XII Team
A fanatic trifecta. The Horned Frogs may still win that title at the end of the season, but they certainly didn’t look like it last Saturday.
Playing against an upstart Arkansas Razorbacks team who’d struggled to put away Louisiana Tech the week before, TCU learned quickly what happens when you play against a team with a defense. Not until the 4th quarter did QB Kenny Hill orchestrate a comeback, and what looked like certain victory was snatched away after a blocked field goal (good lord, Dan Skipper is 6’10”!) sent the game into double overtime and a Woo Pig victory.
There’s no doubt that TCU’s offense is still potent, but it was mistake-prone, and without a defense the end result was inevitable. You may recall that Fact or Fanatic warned you that’s how it would go, although we freely admit that blocked field goal was a lifesaver not just for the Hogs but for our picking record. In the end, however, the lesson should be clear to the Frogs: Recruit defensive players if you want to go all the way.
Class Act of the Week
Illinois State’s 9-7 win over Northwestern last week epitomized the kind of grit and determination FCS schools are displaying against Power 5 squads. We admit we wouldn’t have picked the Redbirds to upset the Wildcats, although their loss to Western Michigan the week before should have been an indication that this Northwestern team wasn’t going to be anywhere near as good as last year’s 10-3 squad. But Illinois State played a near-perfect game, forcing the Wildcats to play along, and were a bright spot of the week.
Trash Act of the Week
We warned you last week that ESPN’s College GameDay would be the likely recipient of this “honor” in week two. What we didn’t expect was a GameDay double whammy. Turns out that the programming geniuses at ESPN not only gave disgraced Art Briles a platform, but did so while dropping a story about six-year-old cancer survivor AJ Cucksey, whose friendship inspires Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs.
AJ is the Children’s Miracle Network Champion for the state of Tennessee, and despite the seven inoperable tumors in his brain, he has now turned his attention to raising funds and awareness for pediatric cancer and the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital that helped his family through their ordeal.
ESPN later made a statement that “changing storylines” were behind their decision to cut a story about a Tennessee child, the Tennessee quarterback, and a Tennessee hospital out of the programming in Tennessee before a Tennessee game, but its callousness is inexplicable. We’re doing a special story about AJ next week, so stay tuned. But make no mistake, ESPN’s decision to take away a child’s platform and grant one to Briles was absolute trash and that’s a fact.
Time to Make Some Picks
10-0 folks. Let’s bask in that for a moment.
Shame to mess that pretty number up, but we’re up for a challenge. There’s an amazing slew of games this weekend, with multiple ranked-vs.-ranked matchups, and the last hurrah before most teams head into conference play. So we’ll take a look at five games you should pay attention to this weekend.
#2 FSU versus #10 Louisville
This game is going to expose one team or the other. The Seminoles looked horrible in the first half against Ole Miss, before scraping together a win. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson has put up unbelievable numbers – against Syracuse and Charlotte.
The question boils down to which unit will dominate the game, the Louisville offense or the Florida State defense. We saw what Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly was able to do against the Semioles’ D, but he was shut down like a leaky pipe for most of the second half. Unfortunately, FSU coach Jimbo Fisher made a fairly terrible coaching decision last week, keeping All-American FS Derwin James in the game despite a huge lead over Charleston – and ultimately losing him to a knee injury. Against a quarterback like Jackson?
James’s loss is devastating for a defense that has already shown it can be exploited for big numbers. If Louisville pulls this off, coach Rick Petrino will officially have righted the ship. But with FSU’s senior QB Sean Maguire still out with a foot injury, that puts true freshman Deondre Francoise (owner of one of the best names in college football) under center for his second-ranked opponent. This one has the potential to be wild, but defense will win this game. Barely. FSU 42 Louisville 41
North Dakota State versus #13 Iowa
Yeah, we know. You’re all thinking “North Dakota State? Against Iowa?” But you should probably take a closer look. Iowa has had a great record the past couple of years – but playing against few ranked teams in the regular season, and getting blown out by double digits in their bowl games. NDSU, on the other hand, has won the last five FCS championships. The Bisons are, without a doubt, one of the best college football programs in the country in any division.
And while Iowa fans and most pundits are seeing a double-digit win for the Hawkeyes here, we’re not so sure. NDSU has a history of showing up big against – and beating – D1 schools in the past few years. Iowa has the edge on practically everything: depth, experience, size, home field.
Yet for some reason, we just cannot bring ourselves to jump on the Hawkeye train this time. Iowa’s flying high with a top 15 ranking, a win over in-state rival Iowa State, and making some noise in the B1G. But Iowa hasn’t played anybody until this week, and this game should be more on the radar than it is. Could mean goodbye to our perfect record, but we’ve got a hunch that spread is way too big. And wrong. So buckle up, Bisons, and get that offense cranking against a stout Iowa defense. NDSU 28 Iowa 24
#25 Miami versus Appalachian State
Earlier this summer, we got into a heated Twitter debate with Tennessee fans about why App State wasn’t a gimme kind of win. Allow us to reiterate our argument for you now.
In 2015, the Mountaineers in their second season as an FBS D1 program went 11-2, were Sunbelt Conference champions, went to the Camellia Bowl, and beat a good Ohio Bobcats team. They returned the sixth-ranked rushing attack statistically in the NCAA, paired with a top-15 defensive unit statistically. Their lines are exceptional, and they have a veteran QB and RB wreaking havoc with a triple option offense. Their coach, Scott Satterfield, is creative and aggressive. Make no mistake: App State is building a juggernaut up on top of that mountain in Boone, NC.
This week, the storied University of Miami Hurricanes are driving up that mountain as the result of a couple of brilliant moves by a Mountaineer athletic department who knows how to make things happen. Mark Richt is in his first year coaching back at his alma mater, and while the Hurricanes are talented and coming off a good recruiting year, games against Florida Atlantic and FAU aren’t exactly giving us a clear picture of how good they really are.
This weekend we’ll find out, when the U lines up against an App State team that’s ready to ball. This is the Mountaineers’ second ranked opponent in the first three games, after giving Tennessee all they could handle a couple of Thursdays ago. That big-game seasoning makes a difference. Vegas has given Miami an unconfident 3.5 spread as of this morning, but App State has a nasty habit of messing Vegas’s weekends up. When the game’s on the line, we’re leaning toward App State’s absolute determination to get that signature D1 win. The Hurricanes get their mythos dissolved Saturday in Boone. Appalachian State 35 Miami 28
#1 Alabama versus #21 Ole Miss
So will it happen? Is the three-peat about to go down in Oxford?
While Tide coach Nick Saban is the best coach in football, for the last two years Ole Miss head honcho Hugh Freeze has had his number – a source of endless frustration and teeth-gnashing for Tide fans. Quarterback play for Ole Miss has been a huge factor in those two wins. In 2015, Chad Kelly went 18 of 33 for 341 yards passing, while in 2014, Bo Wallace threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns.
Kelly has been a hit or miss QB, though. When he shows up to play, it’s magic. When he doesn’t, it’s tragic. Last year, Kelly lost to Memphis after throwing 33-47 for 372 yards – but two of those 14 leftover balls were picks, and Kelly threw on the run for most of the game. That looked very familiar in the second half of the loss two weeks ago to Florida State. What was not familiar was the crumbling of Ole Miss’s stout defense.
Bama, on the other hand, has looked like the best team in the country, rolling all over a shell-shocked ranked USC team who learned why you don’t fire a coach on the tarmac of the airport and then play against him as your opponent’s OC a few years later. Last week, the Tide curb-stomped a good Western Kentucky team 38-10 in week two.
On paper, Alabama should be a double-digit favorite in this game. Vegas has them at +10.5 but the FPI gives them a 51.2% chance of winning. Tide QB play has been relatively untested, and if he starts, fan-favorite Jalen Hurts will learn some valuable lessons about the difference between a PAC-12 defense and one of the best defensive units in the SEC.
In the end, though, Alabama’s defense proves too much for the haphazard Ole Miss offensive line. We see it closer than you might think though. A field goal. Maybe. Alabama 24 Ole Miss 21
#3 Ohio State versus #14 Oklahoma
Welcome to the put up or shut up game of the week. Oklahoma was stunned by Houston in the opening week, in an instant classic that put Houston into the CFP picture. Ohio State has rolled, primarily because they basically played in the bakery the first two games. With QB JT Barrett finally the uncontested leader of Urban Meyer’s high-flying offense, all the gears are clicking for the Buckeyes. And since they are finally taking on a ranked Power 5 team for an out-of-conference away game, this is the weekend we’ll find out if the Buckeyes and their 16 new starters are the real deal.
QB Baker Mayfield led Oklahoma to an extremely balanced and yet dominant win last week over Louisiana-Lafayette during which their touchdown drives averaged less than 100 seconds from beginning to end. Doesn’t matter who you’re playing, if your TD drives are a minute and a half long something is working right in that offense.
Both these quarterbacks should, in my opinion, be Heisman candidates this season. But one of them has to lose this weekend. If the Sooners lose and head into conference play 1-2, their Final Four hopes are toast. If the Buckeyes lose, those late season matchups against Michigan State and Michigan take on even more importance. In a down year for the B1G, there’s no way a two-loss champion makes it into the CFP, and maybe not even a one-loss champ depending on how the other contenders for the Final Four look.
This game is tough, and everything is on the line for both teams. But in games like this, two things are usually the winning factors: defense and veteran players. And while both defenses are stout, Oklahoma has a decided edge in veterans with big away-game experience. It’s a squeaker, but we’ll take the Sooners for the big win at home. Oklahoma 38 Ohio State 35
10-0. Going to be tough to see that “0” change, but it’s inevitable. No one can pick perfectly all season, and that’s a fact.
Or is it?
We’ll find out. We went out on a few limbs this weekend. If nothing else, that will make these games more fun to watch.