John Kaufman - Across the Board Sports
With two weeks of college football action in the books we now turn our attention to week three. So far in 2019, college football has started off exactly as we all expected:
#1 Clemson is 2-0 after throttling new-look Georgia Tech, 52-14, and then taking care of #16 Texas A & M, 24-10.
#2 Alabama is also 2-0 after whipping both Duke and New Mexico State by a combined score of 104-13.
The rest of the AP top five (#3 Georgia, #4 LSU, #5 Oklahoma) are likewise undefeated. And of those three, only LSU has really been tested thus far. Last weekend they went to Austin and held on to beat the Texas Longhorns by a count of 45-38.
Yep, so far everything has pretty much gone exactly like we thought it would.
But isn’t that usually when college football goes bonkers? Isn’t that usually when the chaos begins? Right when we think we know everything?
Keeping that in mind, let’s look at some of this week’s action and see if we can’t just sniff out some of the absurdity before it happens.
#6 Ohio State Buckeyes (-18, O/U 59.5) at Indiana Hoosiers
12:00 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-14) on FOX
After opening with two home games against the Florida Atlantic Owls and the Cincinnati Bearcats, Ohio State is 2-0 just like the five teams ahead of them in the polls. Neither game has really been close though, as the Buckeyes took care of the Owls (45-21) and then shut out the Bearcats (42-0) a week later.
Through its first two games, Ohio State has out-gained their opponents by a combined 476 yards. Quarterback Justin Fields has completed an astounding 76% of his passes for 458 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. What’s even more impressive is that Fields is averaging 9.2 yards per pass attempt (Y/A), which is an excellent number. (For reference, in 2018 Kyler Murray set the all-time record for Y/A with 11.6. Considering that Fields has two total starts to his name, his 9.2 Y/A is outrageously good.)
Running back J.K. Dobbins is killing it as well. He is averaging 6.1 yards per carry (YPC) and has scored three times. Wide receiver K.J. Hill leads the team in receptions with 11, while fellow wideout Binjimen Victor leads the team in receiving yards with 134. Both Victor and Chris Olave are averaging over 19 yards per reception. New Head Coach Ryan Day should be absolutely thrilled with his offense so far in 2019.
Things are looking pretty darn good on the other side of the ball as well. Through two games the Buckeyes defense has nine sacks and has forced four fumbles (only one recovered, however) and picked off two passes despite dealing with injuries from three of their defensive line starters. And as I already mentioned, they held Cincinnati to zero points last weekend. Yeah, it certainly seems as though the Buckeyes are primed to tackle fellow Big 10 foe, Indiana.
The Hoosiers are also 2-0 this year, with wins over the Ball State Cardinals (34-24) and the FCS Eastern Illinois Panthers (52-0). Indiana’s win over the Mid-American Conference Cardinals left a bit to be desired to the Hoosier fans. Not that the game was ever really in doubt, mind you, but Indiana struggled a bit more than perhaps their fans would have liked. The Hoosiers quarterback, Michael Penix, was making his first college football start against Ball State and it showed. Penix went 24-40 (60%) for 326 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Not the stellar start he was hoping for, I’m sure.
Equally alarming was Indiana’s rushing offense. The Hoosiers RBs carried the ball 33 times for only 148 yards (4.5 YPC) against Ball State. Overall, they only outgained the Cardinals by 76 total yards (474-398), they lost the time of possession battle (29:01-30:59), and they also lost the turnover battle, 2-1. Again, there was never a legitimate scare that Indiana would lose this game, but nobody in Bloomington could possibly see this win as anything but concerning at best, and disappointing at worst.
And now the #6 team in the country is coming to town this weekend. Yikes.
So, what type of a game should expect to see on Saturday?
Look for the Buckeyes to roll in this one. (I know – what a dangerous limb I’m going out on, huh? You’re just filled with shock and awe right now, am I right??) Indiana just doesn’t have the horses to run in this race. Struggling to get their rushing offense going against a middling-at-best MAC school is not a super positive indicator of things to come. And if the Hoosiers become one-dimensional because they won’t be able to run the ball, they’ll have to have their redshirt freshman QB win this game with his arm.
Oh, and did I mention that Penix is a game-time decision to even play in this game? Because I totally should have. (It’s like, literally my job to report things.)
Apparently Penix is dealing with an undisclosed injury that may keep him from playing on Saturday. If Penix can’t go, Indiana would turn to backup Peyton Ramsey, which wouldn’t be the end of the world considering Ramsey started all 12 games for the Hoosiers last year. But all things being equal I’m sure that Hoosier Head Coach, Tom Allen, would prefer to start the guy that, well, he already chose to start for him when the season began. Even though Ramsey started every game last year, he hasn’t been practicing as the starter all summer or throughout the first two weeks of 2019. He’d be coming in as cold as the middle of that Hot Pocket you were certain you’d microwaved for long enough. And just like that nasty ole Hot Pocket, that cold part really stands out as a problem.
And if the current state of affairs in Hoosier-land leaves their fans quite skeptical, the history between these two teams isn’t helping matters at all. Don’t think for one second that every Hoosier fan (well, the ones still paying attention anyways) isn't already aware of the fact that Indiana hasn’t beaten Ohio State in their last 25 tries, a streak that goes back to 1988. The iPhone was negative 19 years old the last time the Hoosiers won a game in this series. (Don’t worry – the negative 19-year-old iPhone’s battery still went to crap after eight months. I mean c’mon folks, things weren’t that different back then.)
Final prediction time: Ohio State will win this game by a score of 52-13. Too much Justin Fields, too much J.K. Dobbins, too much up front on the Buckeyes’ defense for whichever QB Indiana will have to start.
ATB SPORTS' NCAA GAME OF THE WEEK:
#1 Clemson Tigers (-28, O/U 65) at Syracuse Orange
7:30 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-14) on ABC
Oooh, raise your hand if you know when the last time college football was played on a Friday the 13th? Yes, you in the back? Right! Friday, October 13, 2017. Well done!!
On that scary date in history, boys and girls, the #2 Clemson Tigers traveled to the Carrier Dome to take on an unranked Syracuse team that stunned the world by pulling off the upset against the Tigers, 27-24. The Orange were 24-point underdogs heading into the game versus Clemson and yet they won outright. It was one of the more memorable and magical upsets in college football history.
But I know that you’re all saying, “Well I’m sure that the following year (2018) Clemson got revenge on Syracuse by beating them soundly at home in Death Valley.”
Well if you are saying that you should stop it, because that ain’t what happened at all. The then-ranked #1 Tigers needed two touchdowns in the 4th quarter to come from behind to beat Syracuse, 27-23.
There are some teams that just seem to have another team’s number, despite huge disparities in talent and other important factors. And for the past two seasons Syracuse certainly has had Clemson’s number. Considering the lack of high-profile games (no two ranked teams will face each other this weekend), the 2019 version of Syracuse versus Clemson was an easy call for our Game of the Week.
Now, they will be playing a day after Friday the 13th this year, so a poor Clemson performance cannot be blamed on Jason Voorhees (or his dear mother, Pamela). But strangeness and bizarr-o world stuff tends to happen when these two teams square off. Is it likely that Clemson’s Heisman-hopeful quarterback, Trevor Lawrence, and his Tigers just annihilate the Orange on Saturday? Of course. I mean, the Tigers are the defending National Champions, and they are four touchdown favorites for a reason. They’re awfully good. But we are savvy college football fans, you and me. And we know that things which cannot be explained by logic or stats or data happen all the time in this sport. We know to expect the unexpected. This, as they say, is not our first rodeo.
So if you find yourself in front of your TV on Saturday evening around 9:30 PM and you see that the Orange have a small lead on the Tigers, you’re no longer allowed to be surprised, mis amigos. You are, however, allowed to go cray-cray rooting for another massive college football upset.
Because isn’t the chaos just so much more interesting?
Final prediction time: Clemson crushes Syracuse 54-17. (What a chicken-sh*t I am.)
BETTER KEEP AN EYE ON...
While there are no games between two ranked opponents this weekend, there are a few other intriguing matchups we shouldn’t ignore:
North Carolina Tarheels at Wake Forest Demon Deacons (-3, O/U 66)
6:00 PM Eastern (Fri. 9-13) on ESPN
If you haven’t seen Wake Forest’s dual-threat quarterback play so far this year, you really need to. Jamie Newman is completing 74.3% of his passes this year to go along with 713 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. He is incredibly athletic and an absolute blast to watch play the quarterback position. Even if it’s only for a drive or two, turn on this game and check this kid out. You’re gonna love what you see.
Stanford Cardinal at #17 University of Central Florida Knights (-9, O/U 62.5)
3:30 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-14) on ESPN
Perennial Group-of-Five New Year’s Bowl hopeful UCF will face the Stanford Cardinal this weekend. This game features some serious talent at the quarterback position. The Knights feature former Golden-Domer Brandon Wimbush at QB, but he will split time with brilliant freshman Dillon Gabriel. The Cardinal are getting their signal caller back (K.J. Costello) after a one-week absence with a head injury he suffered in week one. Costello is legit, and Stanford is a well-coached team that plays better on the road than most college football teams typically do. The point spread says that UCF is should win this game easily, but I wouldn’t count Stanford out just yet. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that Stanford upsets the Knights and wins this game outright.
#19 Iowa Hawkeyes (-1.5, O/U 43) at Iowa State Cyclones
4:00 PM Eastern (Sat. 9-14) on FS1
The annual battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy between these two in-state rivals is always a good time. While the Hawkeyes lead the all-time series 45-27, the Cyclones always show up for this game. Last year’s game was tight the whole way with Iowa finally winning that defensive gem by a score of 13-3. The 2017 game was sheer madness as the Hawkeyes ended up pulling out a squeaker in OT, 44-41. We’re headed into a weekend without a true premium matchup in the college football rankings. But trust me – the Hawkeyes and Cyclones don’t give a you-know-what about that.
HAVE YOU NOTICED...?
Holy cannoli! The Maryland Terrapins are 2-0 this year?? Is that for real?
You bet your tiny turtle it’s real!
Not only are the Terrapins undefeated in 2019, but they’re ranked #21 in the country! After dismantling the FCS Howard Bison 79-0 in week one – a game in which they ran 78 offensive plays and ran for 317 yards – the Terps followed that up with a 63-20 drubbing of Syracuse. In that game, Maryland ran 83 plays and rushed for 354 yards. This Terps team is 100% for real.
But really, their incredible start this year shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise to any of us. After all, Maryland opened each of the last two seasons with wins over Texas. And while the 2018 game was close (34-29 Terps), the 2017 game was a boat race that saw Maryland set the pace with leads of 21-7, 30-14, and finally 51-34 before Texas scored a late touchdown to pull within ten. The Terrapins have been showing up and playing solid football in spots throughout the past two seasons. Finally, they just seem to be putting it all together this year.
The main reason for their success in 2019 is their redshirt junior quarterback, Josh Jackson. Jackson is just flat-out special. Granted, he’s only completing 58.1% of his passes, but he’s thrown for 541 yards on 62 attempts, good for 8.7 Y/A. He’s also tossed seven touchdowns with only one interception. But sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story, and that’s true with Jackson. He is pure electricity in a jersey, and it will take you about half a play to figure that out. Maryland (-7, O/U 66.5) takes on Temple this Saturday at 12:00 PM Eastern on CBS SportNetwork. This is an extremely winnable game for the Terps. And if they do take care of business this weekend, they’d progress to 3-0 on the year before heading into a bye week. And boy oh boy, look what’s waiting on the other side of that bye week: a Friday night home game with #13 Penn State on Sept. 27. You can go ahead and mark that game down on your calendars right now. I promise you that everyone in the Old Line State has already done the exact same thing.
HEY, WHAT'S UP WITH...?
…the Tennessee Volunteers? They’re 0-2 this year? Are you sure? That can't be right.
Unfortunately, that is correct. Tennessee is winless on the season, impossibly dropping their first two games of the year to Georgia State (38-30 in week one) and then to BYU (29-26 in OT in week two). Both games were at Rocky Top. So that’s one gigantic yikes right off the bat. Defensively, the Vols have faced 77 and 60 plays, respectively, in those games. That’s a lot of time spent on a football field without the ball. They also lost the turnover battle in both games. Yikes x2. But otherwise you might say that things don’t look so bad. They did out-gain both of their opponents. And they have completed more passes for more yards and have out rushed both opponents. So what’s the problem with Tennessee?
Simply put, they just don’t have any real players. Recently, Tennessee hasn’t recruited like we’re used to seeing them do. According to 247sports, Tennessee’s recent classes (2017-2021) are averaging right around 25th in the country. That doesn’t sound particularly awful. After all, there are 130 schools in the FBS, which means that 81% of FBS programs are worse at recruiting than the Volunteers. But let’s be brutally honest here – for a program that used to consistently draw top 10-15 recruiting classes, suddenly slipping to the 25th average recruiting class in the nation is a catastrophic drop-off.
Poor Tennessee fans though. If only the program’s recruiting woes were the solo concern.
The Vols also have a coaching issue. Even if you can get a top-25 recruiting class to come play for you, you still have to coach them up. Every week in the NFL we consistently see Alvin Kamara do things on a football field that are seemingly impossible. Throughout the autumnal season he easily stands out as one of the best RBs in the NFL. Quick: think back to 2015 and 2016. Do you remember how Butch Jones used Kamara when he was a Volunteer? You don’t? Do you know why you don’t remember? Because he didn’t. Butch Jones barely used Kamara at all. (Insert eye roll emoji here.)
I’m not joking here. Kamara had 107 carries in 2015 and 103 carries in 2016. That’s it. He added decent work in the Vols’ passing game (34 and 40 catches in his two seasons there), but overall that kind of workload for such an explosive and talented player is absolutely inexcusable.
So that’s it. Mystery solved. If you manage to get Alvin Kamara-type players to come play for you, yet you can’t figure out how to get those players on the field or how to get them the ball, you really don’t need to ponder why you aren’t even remotely competitive anymore. That one is pretty obvious. So what are you if you’re at the point where you suddenly can’t even recruit Kamara-like guys anymore?
You’re the 2019 Tennessee Volunteers.
And the mystery of why you are so dreadful? Well, that just shouldn’t be a mystery at all.