Thoughts on the first big college football Saturday of the year
Saturday was not the best day of college football games that we're going to see this year but for the first time we saw extensive Power Five action including some games between ACC foes.
We'll start with games early in the day.
— If you were watching North Carolina play Syracuse, or if you were watching social media talk about the game, you might have thought the Tar Heels were fakes. They may prove to be overrated but I wouldn't say that yet. Eventually the Orange succumbed to UNC's superior skill talent and offensive punch and I actually thought the Heels' defense looked quite a bit improved. While a lot of folks are saying UNC isn't impressive, I'd lay some money down on them right about now.
— I'd say the same about Notre Dame and the course of their game against Duke went just about the same way. Blue Devils quarterback Chase Brice led Duke down for a touchdown to make the score 17-13 in the third quarter but the Irish got physical the rest of the way and put the clamps down. I don't see them losing more than two games and they could very well be a one-loss team. They'll still be the biggest test on Clemson's schedule.
Notre Dame also made news by extending Brian Kelly's contract through 2024. That's the right move. He's as good a fit as they are going to find. Unless they are willing to lower their admissions standards it's unlikely they will be able to narrow the gap enough to beat a great Clemson or Alabama-type team and win a championship unless a lot goes there way, but aside from those two teams and maybe Ohio State, Georgia, and Oklahoma, they're up there with anybody else in the sport.
One final point on Notre Dame that might be of interest to Kentucky fans. Commonwealth natives Michael Mayer and Jacob Lacey are both seeing the field for the Irish. Mayer, only a freshman, looks like a manchild and a future star in the making. He does not look like a freshman. I'll be surprised if he's not an NFL player.
— Which brings me to another point. Unless your team loses a game it wasn't supposed to lose, it seems like most Week 1 reactions are overreactions. Iowa State fans have a right to meltdown right now. Kansas State fans should be disappointed, as you always should be, after losing as Power Five team to an FBS squad. But year after year we draw conclusions that are too rash and too strong based on the first game of the season. For teams that struggled today there may be issues, but it's far too early to tell for sure.
— Texas and Oklahoma did look impressive representing the Big 12 this weekend. Spencer Rattler can really spin it and Oklahoma's starting quarterback is always going to be a threat to win the Heisman Trophy as long as Lincoln Riley is the Sooners' head coach. It had to be hard for Bobby Petrino to stand on the sidelines and watch his team take the kind of beating he saw so often during that final season at Louisville in 2018.
As for the Longhorns, they dominated UTEP and Sam Ehlinger was thorough impressive in carving up the Miner defense. I'm not going to be the guy to proclaim Texas as back but they are the obvious choice for the No. 2 team in that conference this year.
— Back to the ACC for a moment. Georgia Tech's 16-13 win in Tallahassee was a brutal viewing experience. It just was tough to watch. The bottom-half of the ACC is very bad. From those two teams to Wake, NC State, Duke, Boston College, and Syracuse, there are plenty of questions about the league.
The Mike Norvell era is off to a very bad start in Tallahassee. From some run-ins with players including Marvin Wilson (who has since seemed to make amends with Norvell) to a home loss to Georgia Tech, which was awful last season, the Seminoles are in for a long rebuilding project.
— Army goes marching along. Through two weeks the Black Knights have a 42-0 win against Middle Tennessee and now a 37-7 win against UL-Monroe. Army was 1/5 through the air but rushed for 436 yards this weekend. Almost reads like a Kentucky stat line from last season.
— Speaking of Iowa State, what a huge win for Louisiana and the Sun Belt. So far this year the Sun Belt conference has been one of the bright spots for the sport. The Rajin' Cajuns won a road game against a top-25 team in the Cyclones, Arkansas State won at Kansas State, and Coastal Carolina dominated in Lawrence against perennial doormat Kansas. Previously, South Alabama handled Southern Miss. Here's to the Sun Belt for making such a strong statement on the field this year. We can't say the same for the Big 12.
— Clemson looked every bit the part of the national frontrunner this season. Trevor Lawrence always seems to find his happy place against Wake Forest. He's torched the Demon Deacons every time they have played in the past and it happened again tonight right from the opening quarter. He was on point and looked like the experienced, exceptional talent that he is running the offense. The wide receiver talent is not the same as last year but pairing Travis Etienne with Lawrence is not fair and I feel confident in picking the Tigers as the national championship favorites.
— It seems like Western Kentucky had an opportunity to really make a statement in the first quarter against Louisville. They scored a touchdown after a dominant defensive drive and a fumble on the punt. But for the rest of the quarter the story was WKU surrendering big third down pass plays. Louisville has to get better in the trenches. That was the book on the Cardinals after last year and it still seems like a question right now. Failure to play the ball correctly in the air really did WKU in. We've known Louisville can be a big play machine and that played out Saturday night.
— One final point about WKU: It was really good to see former Kentucky linebacker Eli Brown out there playing for the Hilltoppers. He's had quite a journey throughout his collegiate career and it would be nice to see him go out on a high note.
— Are we close to the Big Ten announcing a fall football season after all?
Yahoo Sports' Pete Thamel reported some big news today.
Sources: The Big Ten presentation by the Return to Competition Task Force has ended successfully today. The full 14 Big Ten Chancellors and Presidents will meet tomorrow are expected to vote on return to play in next 72 hours. Today is the step before the step.— Pete Thamel (@PeteThamel) September 12, 2020
I thought Kyle Rowland (great last name but no known relation) of the Toledo Blade made a great point on Twitter. "It’s one thing for the SEC to play. But when you watch two academic heavyweights — Duke and Notre Dame — play in the Midwest, the Big Ten’s decision becomes fuzzier," he wrote.
Thamel went on to say the Big Ten's meeting was "successful" and called Saturday's news "the step before the final step".
As Thamel noted, the primary issue the Big Ten will need to address should it choose to pursue a fall season is why their conclusion based on medical science is different now compared to weeks ago when the league's presidents voted 11-3 to postpone. As Thamel noted, the availability of rapid testing is the main difference.
— While we're on that topic it was interesting to see some of the cultural differences on display in the stands on Saturday. At Notre Dame there was generally social distancing and mask wearing among fans across the board. At Florida State, those things were much less common. That's only an observation. From fan behavior to the enforcement decisions, those cultural differences are real. I'm not going to be participating in singling out fans for ridicule throughout the season so this is the only time I'll mention it, simply because this is new territory for all of us.