As the resident Group of Five contributor, I feel like it is my duty to encapsulate a Week Zero that had at least one Group of Five member playing in each FBS game.
Week Zero was mozzarella sticks.
Allow me to explain. Everyone loves mozzarella sticks. Very enjoyable for what they are, but not enough to satisfy our general hunger for what is upcoming. Much like Week Zero of the college football season.
For those of you new to The Walk-on Redshirts and my mixed metaphors, I write a weekly column called “Gee, Five Thoughts” where I take a broad view of the world of the Group of 5. I’m not affiliated with any school, so I don’t dislike any teams outright. Think of me like the Group of 5 Dad. I love all my schools and don’t dislike any. But sometimes I’m disappointed in you.
So with that in mind, allow me to give you, dear reader five thoughts based on our Week Zero outcomes.
1. Jacksonville St. will be just fine.
This probably deserves an overarching statement about CUSA, but I wanted to start by just giving a shout-out to Jacksonville St. They announced their presence to the FBS by beating UTEP Saturday 17-14. While it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing game, and UTEP certainly has some issues to address (specifically in regards to play calling on the offensive side of the ball), there was never a time during the game where JSU looked like they didn’t belong. So congratulations to the Gamecocks on their first FBS and conference win.
Now, it’s time for some tough love.
While the win was nice, and there are some reasons to be optimistic, especially on the defensive side of the ball, I wouldn’t look at them as a challenger to the conference title they can’t actually win anyway. They didn’t wow me on the offensive side of the ball. Zion Webb was fine and didn’t make any mistakes, but 10-20 for 67 yards through the air isn’t going to get it done against the Western Kentuckys or even the Louisiana Techs of the conference. The offense is going to have to open things up a bit more, which is not something I thought I would have to say about a team coached by Rich Rodriguez, but here we are. But in the meantime, we can say that they belong.
As far the rest of the conference Saturday, New Mexico St. was probably the most disappointing team. It was supposed to be an ESPN showcase for a team that traditionally is a doormat who finished last year with a winning record and a bowl victory. Jerry Kill got a tattoo and everything! So when photos circulated on the internet of the team coming to the stadium wearing ponchos, vibes were at an all time high. Pity UMass.
*Lee Corso voice* Not so fast my friend.
The game ended up being a showcase for UMass quarterback (by way of Clemson and Georgia Tech) Taisun Phommachanh, who outplayed NMSU QB Diego Pavia by showcasing his dual-threat ability that made him an ACC recruit in the first place. Pavia ended up with decent numbers thanks to a bonkers fourth quarter that threatened the Over total on its own, but you could tell Pavia was forcing things a bit too much.
I do think NMSU will be ok going forward. The rushing attack looked really potent and Pavia will ultimately either settle down or get replaced by Texas A&M transfer Eli Stowers. Either way, they will be ok. We just need to do some expectation management. (I say to myself after betting the Over on their win total.)
In other news, the less said about the Louisiana Tech/FIU game the better. La Tech spotted FIU 14 points, then came back to win 22-17. Smoke Harris is fun to watch though.
2. Hawaii might be feisty.
One of the more pleasant developments from Week Zero was the performance of Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors had to travel to Nashville with heavy hearts due to the fires in Lahaina to take on an SEC team that beat them 63-10 last year. And on top of that, Saturday’s game was delayed roughly 90 minutes due to weather. But once the game got going, Hawai’i fought hard before falling short 35-28 to Vanderbilt. That game could have easily got away from them like it did last year, but Timmy Chang’s squad fought hard to the end, even having a chance to drive for a game tying touchdown before quarterback Brayden Schager was intercepted.
Schager played pretty well, throwing for 350 yards and 3 TDs, and it appears he found two solid receivers to compliment him in Steven McBride and freshman Pofele Ashlock, who each had 7 grabs and 225 yards combined. That’s a welcome sight for those who are used to the Run-and-Shoot style Hawai’i is known for. In a weird scheduling quirk, Hawai’i plays again Friday at home against Stanford, meaning they have two games before a lot of teams play their first games, but there are signs that can be a win and they can prove to be a handful for many conference opponents going forward.
3. Navy has some work to do…but not as much as you think.
So the 42-3 outcome against Notre Dame does not instill a ton of confidence, I’m not overly concerned about Navy going forward.
For one, Notre Dame is going to be really good. Taking them on in Dublin was comparable to facing a lion in the Colosseum with a plastic knife. It was never going to go well. And there aren’t too many Sam Hartmans and Audric Estimes in the AAC, so the defense will get figured out.
I certainly understand if you are not overly excited about the offense after Saturday’s performance. Tai Lavatai was 3-6 through the air, and one particular fourth down play in the first quarter that was thrown in the direction of two receivers doesn’t instill a ton of confidence in the Midshipmen’s ability to move the ball through the air. But that’s Navy football, baby. If they struggle Sept. 9 against Wagner, then we can be concerned. But until then, let’s just look at their Week Zero game as a learning experience under a new head coach.
I know I kinda took the Ohio St. thing but whatever.
At the end of the season, we may look at San Diego St. winning 20-13 as a sign that the Aztecs are their typical selves. Great defense and an unreliable offense. But in the immediate, this is about Ohio.
Kurtis Rourke was coming back from an ACL injury suffered last year. While optimism was high and the arm looked good early, the reality is he was probably not 100% because he took an awkward hit in the first half Saturday that kept him out of the rest of the game. Information about the injury has not been made public as of this writing, but it could be anything from a reaggravation of that injury to maybe something completely unrelated. (He also took a major hit during an option play in the first quarter that may have affected him more than we know.) Regardless, Rourke is likely not going to be the same guy MAC fans are used to seeing, and if CJ Harris has to play any significant amount of time, there should be genuine concern for Bobcat Nation.
5. Looking ahead.
Next week we get both quality and quantity. The highlight of the weekend for the Group of Five Hive (trademark pending) is Tulane hosting South Alabama. (Ranked numbers 1 and 3 in my Group of 5 preseason poll.) But there are also several games involving Group of 5 teams taking on Power 5 opponents. Most notably (but not limited to):
- Coastal Carolina at UCLA
- Boise St. at Washington
- UTSA at Houston
- Texas Tech at Wyoming
- Toledo at Illinois
- Fresno St. at Purdue
These types of games are what make college football so fun. Sure Florida St. vs. LSU is going to be great, but the very real possibility of an upset in a sport that we are told one loss makes all the difference is what I love so much about this sport. So thank you Week Zero for whetting our appetite. But now it’s time for the main course.