College Football in Full Swing

Observations - Part 1

Well hello there! It’s been a few weeks since my last column and a lot has changed. When I last wrote we had yet to embark on the SEC season and the ACC and Big 12 conferences were facing several game postponements due to COVID (with the Big 12 off to a dreadful non-conference start). Had I written a column following Week 1 of the SEC beginning play it probably would have been asking if the state of Mississippi was going to be the trendy new club of college football with the Pirate – Mike Leach – at Mississippi State, the Frat Brother - Lane Kiffin - at Ole Miss and…new hire “Coach Prime”, Deion Sanders at Jackson State, an FCS program with a proud history that has been down. Things have cooled considerably after Mississippi State’s win over LSU, they’ve struggled since, and Ole Miss has started the season 1-4 - an exciting 1-4 - but 1-4 all the same.

Clemson is clearly the class of the ACC but there is a burgeoning middle class that includes Miami, North Carolina and even Virginia Tech. Notre Dame, a temporary member, is somewhere between middle class and Clemson but offensively the firepower doesn’t seem to be there to really contend with the Tigers. However, Clemson does play at Notre Dame in a couple of weeks so we will see.

The Big 10 opened up with a splash last Saturday with a big win for Purdue over Iowa and the headliner – controversial and fun upset of Penn State by Indiana. Unfortunately for the Big 10 it takes the luster off of what was supposed to be the matchup of the year this coming Saturday between Ohio State (who won big over Nebraska) and the Nittany Lions. Michigan and Wisconsin both looked great, but Wisconsin will be without their starting quarterback for some time after a positive COVID test. The Big 10 has a pretty absurd 21 day holdout following a positive test (it’s 10 days in other leagues).

The Big 12 has had a rough beginning with perennial frontrunner Oklahoma losing two games, blowing big leads in the 4th quarter and almost losing a third to the other big-name disappointment in the conference, Texas before rebounding to win in four overtimes. Right now Oklahoma State, after a convincing win Saturday over Iowa State (yes, Iowa State) is in the driver’s seat. However, it seems really unlikely that the Big 12 will end up with an undefeated champion and probably not even one with one loss. This may open door for playoff to a second SEC team or perhaps even an undefeated Cincinnati or BYU, although that’s less likely.

Alabama is the champagne of the SEC so far, with Georgia a step back, probably a star QB and another explosive WR away. Florida is poised to give Georgia a game possibly in their matchup but needs to figure out defense. Texas A&M is probably the next rung down and then we get LSU, Auburn, thanks to several instances of officiating help, and – did not expect this – Arkansas and Missouri as the “middle class”.

Meanwhile the AAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt are trucking – Cincinnati, Marshall and Coastal Carolina seem like the top teams there at this juncture. Independent BYU is having a magical season – it’s too bad they aren’t able to play any Power 5 matchups like they normally do. In a couple more weeks the PAC-12 will get underway for a seven game season and we got week 1 of the Mountain West.

It’s now starting to feel like real, full college football season – we’re even getting those wacky late Saturday games back – can’t wait for PAC 12 After Dark to return in November.

The COVID 19 pandemic and college football’s reactions to it, coupled with restructuring of schedules and limits on crowds have been one over-arching storyline. However, on the field and particularly the sidelines, one over-arching storyline has emerged in the first (sort-of) half of the season. I’ll dive into what that is in my next installment coming soon.