Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (SEC quarterback drama sold separately in Tuscaloosa, Starkville, Athens and points elsewhere):
TEMPER YOUR EXPECTATIONS
August is always Optimism Month in the sport — this season is always going to be better than the last. Bigger, faster, stronger, better coached — those are the talking points of preseason camp nationwide. Especially where coaching changes have occurred.
Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way. In the interest of realism, The Dash is here to rain on half a dozen parades before they get started.
In its first season under Chip Kelly, UCLA (31) will start 1-2, possibly even 0-3. The most celebrated hire of the season didn’t inherit much: quarterback Josh Rosen and offensive lineman Kolton Miller were top-15 picks; the top two receivers from a 6-7 team are gone; so is leading tackler Kenny Young. Then the school announced Monday that six players are suspended for the opener for violating athletic department policies, with one of those six also suspended for the second game and two more for the opening three contests. UCLA may be able to withstand those losses and still beat Cincinnati in the opener, but then comes a trip to Oklahoma and a Sept. 15 game against a Fresno State team returning most of its key players from a 10-4 team.
In its first season under Jeremy Pruitt, Tennessee (32) will be 2-6 entering November. The Volunteers were atrocious last year, going 4-8 and winless in the Southeastern Conference. The victories: Southern Mississippi, Massachusetts, Indiana State and Georgia Tech by a point in double overtime when the Yellow Jackets fumbled away a 14-point fourth-quarter lead. So you start with a general lack of talent and proven winners, add an unproven head coach, sprinkle in an uninspiring quarterback situation, then top it off with a barbaric schedule. The only wins in the first two months will be over East Tennessee State and UTEP. Maybe athletic director Phil Fulmer will appoint himself Head Offensive Assistant Coach by November.
With a veteran team returning, Michigan State (33) still will not threaten to win the Big Ten East. There has been plenty of buzz about the Spartans, who are No. 11 in the preseason AP poll. But last year’s 10-3 bounce-back season was built largely on winning close games against mediocre-to-bad teams: six of seven Big Ten wins were by 10 points or less, with the lone high-quality victory coming against Penn State. There also was a 20-point loss to Notre Dame and a 45-point loss to Ohio State. This could be an 8-4 team heading into the postseason.
Similarly, the South Carolina (34) hype will be difficult to fulfill. The Gamecocks are coming off a 9-4 season and are a trendy pick to finish second in the SEC East behind Georgia — and some even believe the Bulldogs will be upset in Columbia on Sept. 8. The Dash believes it’s more likely that South Carolina is 3-2 or 2-3 leaving September — it won’t beat Georgia, it may be tripped up by dangerous Marshall in a hangover game the next week, and any belief that the Gamecocks can beat Kentucky on Sept. 29 is presumptuous after four straight losses in that series. Florida is the more likely second-place team in the East.
Memphis (35) could go 13-0 and be ignored by the College Football Playoff selection committee. The Tigers have become a consistently good program, winning 37 games over the past four seasons. They have a lot of returning talent this season, and they could win every game if the quarterback pipeline stays flowing with Arizona State transfer Brady White. But the schedule is soft enough that an undefeated record could get Memphis the same amount of playoff respect as American Athletic Conference brethren Central Florida got last year. Missouri is the only Power Five conference opponent, with additional non-league games against Mercer, Georgia State and South Alabama. That schedule won’t earn much respect.
Boise State (36) is the Mountain West version of Memphis. This could be the Broncos’ best team since the halcyon Bus days of 2008-11, but even an undefeated season probably wouldn’t be rewarded with serious playoff consideration. The non-conference schedule consists of Troy, Connecticut, Oklahoma State and BYU — better than what Memphis faces, but still probably not enough to shake up the power structure. Boise fans should root for rebuilding Oklahoma State to be beatable on Sept. 15 and get better thereafter, posting a good record in the Big 12. It would also help for BYU to rebound from last year’s 3-9 cratering.
STAT OF THE WEEK
New Mexico State (37) was dominated at home by Wyoming in its opener, 29-7, producing just 135 yards of total offense and being penalized 12 times. That’s definite regression from last year’s breakthrough bowl bid, first in 57 years, and Arizona Bowl victory. But it’s also a return to who the Aggies really are — they have now lost 18 straight season openers against FBS competition, with the last opening win against an FBS opponent coming over UTEP in 1995. Prior to that, you have to dial back to 1981 for an opening win over an FBS opponent (also UTEP).
RUINOUS DRINKING GAME OF THE WEEK
Take a drink every time a broadcaster refers to a physically impressive player as a “grown man (38).” You may be unconscious my mid-afternoon Saturday.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Nick Rolovich (39), Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors went 3-9 last year and lost most of their best players from that team, which radically reduced expectations heading into the season opener at Colorado State. But Hawaii went up and down the field all night behind first-year starting quarterback Cole McDonald, registering a 43-34 upset win in Fort Collins. McDonald looked like a blooming star, producing more than 500 yards of total offense and five touchdowns. Hawaii hasn’t been good in many years, but Rolovich’s third team could be a Mountain West contender.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Also Rolovich, whose impressive opening victory was nearly put in useless jeopardy by a bizarre play call in the final minute. Leading by six points, Rolovich opted to throw on third-and-4 from the Colorado State 17-yard line. The pass was incomplete, stopping the clock, when a running play would have taken the time remaining inside 20 seconds and greatly reduced CSU’s chances for a miracle touchdown drive. Fortunately for Rolovich, kicker Ryan Meskell made a 35-yard field goal to seal the victory with 44 seconds remaining, rendering the decision moot.
When hungry in Fort Worth, one of the meat capitals of America, The Dash wholeheartedly endorses a trip to B&B Butchers Steakhouse (40). Start with the bacon appetizer, then go with a filet medium rare. Add some sides and pair it with an El Chingon IPA from Dallas-based Four Corners Brewing. (“El Chingon” roughly translates from Spanish slang as badass. It’s an apt name.) Thank The Dash profusely later.
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