Now that the dust has settled from Week One of the college football season, let’s take a 30,000-foot view of the world of the Group of Five.
My mea culpa.
Don’t worry, there is going to be an “I told you so” portion later on. (So keep reading Old Dominion fans.) But first, I want to acknowledge someone who may not be who I thought they were in the preseason.
Arguably the game of the weekend was North Carolina going to Boone to take on Appalachian St. While it was expected to be close, I’m not sure anyone expected a 63-61 shootout. Let alone a 40-POINT fourth quarter by the home team in defeat. Seriously, that game was drunk.
Now, while the Mountaineers fell short, I do want to shout-out Chase Brice, who threw for 361 yards and six touchdowns. I had mentioned in my “Predicting the Futures” for the Sun Belt that last year he gave off Game Manager Energy with a stable of wide receivers to throw too. However this year, with a brand new receiving corps, it remained to be seen if he could make the plays to beat the upper echelon teams on their schedule. While App St. did fall short, it was not due to lack of productivity at the quarterback position. (They probably need to work on their two-point conversion play calls though.) A #1 receiver needs to step up for me to feel completely confident that they are the team to beat in the Sun Belt, but they will absolutely put up points.
Living up to the hype.
The game I was looking forward to more than probably any other this season was Houston at UTSA, and I dare say that it delivered.
The Cougars won 37-35 in triple overtime. And while the end result didn’t go the Roadrunners way, I think I feel better about UTSA going forward. I felt early on that the Cougars were the best team in all of G5, with a legit chance to run the table and play in a NY6 Bowl game. And they still may, but next week they take on a Texas Tech Red Raider squad who looks like the Texas Tech teams of old. (Even though quarterback Tyler Shough is injured, I think Donovan Smith makes them more dangerous.) Sack Avenue is going to have to make its mark.
Meanwhile, UTSA looks like they have not missed a beat from last year. They went toe-to-toe with a legit Top 25 team, essentially losing by one play. Frank Harris accumulated 400 total yards of offense and the receiving corps is the best in all of G5, top to bottom. Games upcoming against Army and Texas will offer two very different challenges, and the Roadrunners may lose both games. But once conference play hits, this feels like clearly the top team in C-USA.
I tried to tell you.
Those who read any of my G5 content early last year (or the previous paragraph) knows I was in on the 2021 Roadrunners early. Some teams just have that magic where everything comes together.
If you paid attention, I gave you that team this year with the Old Dominion Monarchs. And if Friday night’s victory over Virginia Tech is any indication, there’s some magic in Norfolk.
Hayden Wolff didn’t look great, going only 14-for-35 for 165 yards, but the defense was able to generate 5 Hokie turnovers. Expect a regression to the mean on both sides of the ball, as Wolff is better than he showed and the defense won’t generate that many turnovers every game. The schedule is still pretty brutal, with interesting (but winnable) road games upcoming this weekend at East Carolina and Virginia and conference roadies at Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State. But that’s the beauty of magic. It’s not supposed to make sense. Hop on the Monarch bandwagon, I’ll save you a seat as long as I can.
A Pack of thieves
One of the biggest surprises at this point in the college football season is the 2-0 Nevada Wolf Pack. Many pundits looked at all they lost (mostly to Colorado St.) and expected this to be a rebuilding season. But after a Week Zero win at New Mexico St. followed by a home victory against Texas St., this team is building confidence under new coach Ken Wilson.
Up next is a game against FCS foe Incarnate Word. While nothing is a given, the Wolf Pack could be looking at 3-0 and halfway to bowl eligibility before heading to Iowa City to take on a Hawkeye squad that was last seen scoring a field goal and two safeties against South Dakota St. Nevada’s offense is still very much a work in progress, but the defense looks a lot like, well, Iowa, generating nine turnovers in two games. Stranger things have happened.
In MAC News…
It’s hard to take too much away from this weekend’s game in the Mid-American Conference. Central Michigan looks scary on offense, but was gashed on defense in the first half of their game against Oklahoma St. Toledo is probably the most well-rounded squad, but a 37-0 win over Long Island is not the greatest sample size. The most impressive win may have gone to Ohio, who defeated a Florida Atlantic team that was riding high after a Week Zero conference win 41-38. Kurtis Rourke put up 345 yards passing and four touchdowns and the Bobcats may have found a running game as well, as freshman Sieh Bangura added 114 yards on the ground. Keep an eye on Ohio going forward.