They say that the most improvement to a team comes from Week One to Week Two. And that makes sense. There’s now a frame of reference for what someone is. Having said that, this past weekend may have offered some Fool’s Gold. So with that in mind, I want to look at a few outcomes and provide some perspective.
Perception: The Boise St. Era is over.
Reality: Look, I get it. Oregon St. feels like the type of team that Boise St. would beat. But even if they didn’t beat them, it would at least be a competitive game. But Saturday’s 34-17 loss in Corvallis felt like anything but.
To some, it may have felt like a sign that the Broncos are no longer in the upper echelon of their own conference, let alone the entire Group of 5. But let’s slow our collective rolls here. For starters, Oregon St. is a really good team. Full stop. Secondly, Boise St. might have corrected their biggest flaw. Hank Bachmeier got a lot of mileage out of beating a Florida St. team coached by Willie Taggart four years ago, but he isn’t the game changer needed at the quarterback position. So in came freshmen Taylen Green, who just might be that guy.
Green threw for just 155 yards but also ran for 102, including a dynamic 74-yard touchdown run. In a division that looks like Air Force is the toughest challenger and a schedule that has Fresno St., San Diego St. and Utah St. all at home, let Green take him lumps now. But trust that he will figure it out and be a force for years to come.
Perception: James Madison’s transition to the FBS will be seamless.
Reality: Todd Centeio dazzled in his Dukes debut on Saturday with 397 total yards and 6 TDs in JMU’s 44-7 victory over Middle Tennessee. Many may see this as a sign that the former FCS powerhouse will pick up where they left off in the Sun Belt.
*Channels my inner Lee Corso* Not so fast my friend.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like. The defense looked terrific and receiver Kris Thornton is an all-conference talent. But the reality is MTSU was an ideal first opponent for JMU as an FBS school. They are a middling C-USA team seemingly on the precipice of a transition of their own. The Dukes will likely be 2-0 headed into their first road conference game…against Appalachian St. Beyond that, their schedule is backloaded with challenging games against the likes of Marshall, Louisville, Old Dominion, Georgia St. and Coastal Carolina. The Dukes look like they will fit in nicely in the conference, but this year that may mean a 6-5 record.
Perception: Cincinnati has fallen back.
Reality: The Bearcats did something they haven’t done in a very long time Saturday…lose a regular season game.
Cincy fell to a very good Arkansas team 31-24 in Fayetteville Saturday. The team was competitive, but you never really got the feeling that they were going to leave Arkansas with the victory. That’s a very un-Cincinnati feeling. Thanks to a fairly soft upcoming schedule, we may not learn too much about the Bearcats until a back-to-back road trip to SMU and UCF in late October. And I personally do not think Ben Bryant is anywhere near Desmond Ridder, but with no Houston to be found, this is still likely a 9-win team. And that may be good enough to get them in the AAC Championship Game in their last year in the conference.
Much like overreactions have taken place after one week (Does anyone else hear the Barenaked Ladies song in their head when they read those words? Just me? Ok then.) there are also teams still being slept on. So if you are looking to hit on a couple moneylines, this is the week to do it. (Lines courtesy of Draftkings as of 9/7.)
1. UNLV (+13) at California – In the preseason, I boldly claimed that Harrison Bailey might be the biggest X-Factor in the Mountain West Conference.
I think I nailed the team and the position. But it turns out, I may have just chosen the wrong guy.
UNLV was definitely one of my teams on the come up this year. Quarterback Doug Brumfield was Freshmen of the Year in the MWC last year. Now he has weapons at his disposal, namely in the form of Michigan St. transfer Ricky White, who made 8 catches for 182 yards and two scores in last week’s 52-21 blowout of Idaho St. This week they take on a Cal squad who did what they were supposed to in defeating UC Davis 34-13, but will have to put up points against this Rebel squad. I don’t think this Golden Bear team can outscore UNLV by 13 points. I’m not convinced they can outscore them by one point.
2. North Carolina at Georgia St. (+7.5) – I can already tell that Georgia St. is just a team that I will not be able to quit.
When we last saw these two teams, GSU was getting beat by SEC foe South Carolina 35-14 in a game where the Panthers looked a bit disappointing. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels were escaping Boone, N.C. after that 63-61 snoozefest against App St. This would mark UNC’s third game of the year after playing Week Zero, so they’ve played a lot of football in a short amount of time.
One thing that did show up last week for the Panthers is their rushing attack, which accumulated 200 yards against an SEC defense. It looks an awful lot like the Mountaineer rushing attack that North Carolina faced (and struggled with) last week. But they need balance to take advantage of a pretty porous North Carolina defense. If Darren Grainger plays like he did last year and not last week (7-for-29 for 111 yards) then it’s possible that they could catch a worn down Tar Heel team at the right time.
3. Marshall (+20.5) at Notre Dame – I wrote about this game a few weeks ago as one I was keeping my eye on as a possible letdown for the Fighting Irish. It’s hard to discern too much from a 55-3 won over Norfolk St. What I can tell is the Thundering Herd is still determined to run the ball despite no Rasheen Ali, as Ethan Payne and Khalan Laborn both went over the century mark last Saturday. They also held their opponent to 114 total yards, which means their defense is stout. I think the Under (51 points) is really the move, but this is still a trap game for Notre Dame. As Marcus Freeman’s home opener, this could be a highly emotional game. That could be used to their advantage or against them. Regardless, I don’t see Notre Dame as 3 touchdowns better than a team that will be a force in the Sun Belt.