More big-boy football is on the horizon.
The SEC joins the fray and the Big 12 begins conference action Saturday. Thirty-seven FBS games await us this weekend, and we couldn’t be more excited.
This past week provided a few glimpses at what we should expect on the national scene in the coming weeks, too. A couple of contenders are emerging in the ACC, along with a big red whiner in the Big Ten.
It’s time to overreact.
Miami is back
Texas is back. Miami is back. It’s cliche. It’s meant to be funny, ironic and serves as an annoying jab at opposing fan bases.
Even so, I do believe Miami is back, even after just two games, including a 47-34 road win against an overrated Louisville team. Miami’s offense needed an upgrade and the Hurricanes got just that with the arrival of quarterback D’Eriq King and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. The hurry-up offense is a joy to watch, and punishing for defenses to defend. Miami has championship-level at quarterback, tight end (Will Mallory and Brevin Jordan) and running back (Cam’Ron Harris, Jaylan Knighton and Don Chaney Jr.). The issue is at receiver, where the likes of Mark Pope had three or four drops, and along the offensive line, where blocking in the scheme was suspect in the opener against UAB.
Still, the eye candy, motions before the snap and the ability to pick apart defenses in the middle of the field gives us a glimpse at what the old Miami teams used to do to opponents: frustrate, confuse and dominate.
Time will tell whether Miami can contend with Clemson (the Tigers are probably still two- to three-touchdown favorites), but at the very least the Hurricanes are exciting to watch with a competent offense that will only improve week by week as King grows in the system.
Miami solidified itself alongside Notre Dame as the main challengers to the seemingly-untouchable Clemson Tigers this week, and the thinking here is the Hurricanes have the better quarterback compared to the Irish. King ranks seventh nationally with a grade of 83.6, according to Pro Football Focus.
Is UCF the best team in Florida?
UCF lost three games in 2019 by a total of seven points. The Golden Knights considered the 10-win record a disappointing season.
Times have changed over the last five years in Orlando, where UCF has turned into a power out of the Group of 5 and a giant killer in the Power 5. UCF didn’t disappoint Saturday with a 49-21 victory at Georgia Tech, which was hot off an upset win at Florida State in the Yellow Jackets’ season opener.
Tech had no shot by the time the middle of the second quarter arrived. Dillon Gabriel threw for a career-high 417 yards and four touchdowns. Afterward, he made a proclamation: UCF is the best team in Florida. And he might not be incorrect, even with Florida in the top 10 and Miami climbing the polls after demolishing nationally-ranked Louisville on the road later that night.
“I said what I said, and I was confident in it,” Gabriel repeated to reporters Monday. “… I still think we’re the best team in Florida and that’s all I have to say.”
Notre Dame has what it takes to win ACC
Notre Dame is making the tight end cool again in college football.
Two tight-end sets, jumbo packages and play-action have turned Notre Dame’s offense into a bullish team capable of demoralizing defenses. The Irish rushed for six touchdowns and nearly 300 yards in a 52-0 shutout of USF, but what was impressive was the blocking, designs and constant involvement of the tight ends in the offense. Tight ends Tommy Tremble, Brock Wright and Michael Mayer are an impressive trio, and if the Irish find a way to be successful in the middle of the field, watch out. Tremble once again led the Irish in receiving yards (61), but was also incredibly effective as a blocker in the run game.
Notre Dame’s three tight ends rank in the top 25 nationally at the position, with Tremble leading the way with a score of 90.2 to rank third, according to Pro Football Focus (a grade above 89 is considered “elite”).
Like Miami, I do worry about the involvement of Notre Dame’s receivers in the passing game. Receivers were targeted only four times against USF, and quarterback Ian Book was 12 of 19 passing for 143 yards with zero touchdowns. The tight ends and running backs combined for eight grabs.
Book ranks 49th out of 61 quarterbacks through two games this season, according to Pro Football Focus’ grades.
The Irish must be more consistent down the field to challenge Clemson in the ACC.
Oklahoma State not a top-15 team
Oklahoma State needs Spencer Sanders. The Cowboys steered away from their offensive identity when the quarterback limped to the locker room after a touchdown drive to open the season. Meanwhile, Tulsa pulled ahead and was primed for an upset.
Chuba Hubbard’s streak of 11 games with 100 rushing yards was broken. The nation’s leading rusher from a season ago looked average. The Cowboys’ defense, of all things, was the strength. Meanwhile, freshman Shane Illingworth took over at quarterback and proved to be the answer after struggles with junior college transfer Ethan Bullock. Finally, the identity returned. The Cowboys threw down the field. All-American receiver Tylan Wallace was targeted, and the big plays (three catches of 20-plus yards in the third quarter) bailed OSU out of disaster and earned him the Big 12’s Offensive Player of the Week award.
Maybe the Cowboys will be OK with Illingworth while Sanders nurses an injury, but the biggest concern is in the trenches. Oklahoma State’s offensive line was pushed around all afternoon by Tulsa, and it will surely be a weakness against Big 12 teams.
The Cowboys were my pick to finish second in the Big 12 behind rival Oklahoma this season. I don’t see the Cowboys finishing above third or fourth after this weekend’s abysmal showing.
Stop whining, Nebraska
The Big Ten canceled the fall season, Nebraska threatened to leave the conference and then players sued the conference.
Meanwhile, their University president blabbed into a hot mic, spoiling the conference’s impending return to the college football field last week. Then their athletics director, Bill Moos, complained about the Huskers’ schedule.
The Huskers deserve “a break here or there to start getting back on track to being a contender in the Big Ten West,” Moos said, according to the Omaha World Herald.
Huh? Why does Nebraska deserve to be placed at the head of the line? Why does any team deserve preferential treatment?
No one is ever happy in Nebraska. The fan base has been miserable the last few years, and why shouldn’t it be? Consider it pent-up frustration from mediocrity and the fading memories of relevance.
Remember when Nebraska mattered? The college football program has not been a factor nationally in nearly 20 years, when the Cornhuskers slipped into the BCS National Championship and was subsequently destroyed by Miami. Their fan base is amazing, and almost as enthusiastic as hardcore Alabama fans in the SEC, but they’ve had absolutely zero to cheer since 2002. Losing seasons in four of the last five years, including three straight, and the lack of gratitude for nine- and 10-win seasons early in the 2010s has pushed the Huskers to the run of also-rans. The fan base and money is there to be great, but the talent and leadership has not. That might change under Scott Frost but the early returns off the field have been subpar for those on the inside and annoying for those of us watching from the outside.
Nebraska hasn’t looked the part of a blueblood and it certainly is not deserving of steering the narrative and threatening to leave the table, particularly after jumping ship from the Big 12 to the Big Ten less than one decade ago. The grass is not always greener, Nebraska. The Huskers made a mistake leaving for the land of Michian and Ohio State. Their record is below .500 since they joined the Big Ten and they play in a division that has been dominated by Wisconsin and Iowa, and yet the division hasn’t won a conference title since 2013.
Still, it’s those first two games that will derail Nebraska, right? Nebraska no longer opens up with Rutgers and Illinois, but must instead open against division favorites Ohio State and Wisconsin — two teams they would have to face at some point anyway. Moos, however, had to complain, and to further strengthen his argument, he played victim.
“First time we’re on a charter aircraft, first time we’re in a hotel, first time everybody on the sidelines has masks on, first time with electronic whistles, everything’s going to be new,” Moos said. “I didn’t feel that had to happen.”
Wow. A chartered flight? Life’s tough. The Huskers need to teleport, darn it! They shouldn’t lose off the field, too, Kevin Warren!
Perhaps it’s time to adjust our outlook for the season and push the Cornhuskers further down the standings. At least the disappointment of another losing season shouldn’t be surprising. The Huskers will be well on their way after the first two weeks of the season.