The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

And, yes I’m well aware of the fact that there are still games left to be played. Sorry, fans of Louisville, Florida State, et al…

WINNERS

Tajh throws Braxton a stiff-arm
Braxton Miller may have entered the season as the favorite to win the 2013 Heisman Trophy, but Tajh Boyd showed he will likely be a (big) part of the discussion all the way into December. In Clemson’s impressive 38-35 win over Georgia Saturday night, Boyd accounted for all five of the Tigers’ touchdown — three passing, two rushing. On a team level, it was one of the biggest wins of Dabo Swinney‘s tenure. On a personal level, it was Boyd shining on a national stage against a very, very, very good football team in the Bulldogs and a coming-out party for a player who, at least as far as this corner is concerned, doesn’t get the respect he deserves. After that virtuoso performance, there’s no longer an excuse for any lack of respect.

Moneybadger don’t give a %$#! either
All hail the new troll god!!! Love him or hate him, Johnny Manziel makes college football a better — and immensely more interesting — game when he’s part of it. While he wasn’t a part of it in the first-half thanks to a suspension, he returned in the second half of Texas A&M’s win over Rice, and not once but twice trolled the NCAA overlords over his recent off-field “issues.” In the first instance, Manziel seemed to indicate a Rice defender would not be getting the reigning Heisman winner’s Herbie Hancock anytime soon…

Manziel Signing GIF

 

… then seemed to make a money gesture to the sky following his first touchdown pass of the season…

Manziel Money GIF

 

Manziel, of course, was investigated by the NCAA after it was alleged that he was paid tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for his signature on photos, memorabilia, etc.

Don’t change, JFF. Don’t ever change. Well, mostly don’t change (see a little further below).

No Bret, no problem
There were some people — myself included — who felt that Wisconsin wouldn’t be the old Wisconsin we’ve become accustomed to in the first year of the post-Bret Bielema era in Madison. While that may or may not ultimately be the case, the Badgers put on one helluva ground show in the first game of the Gary Andersen era. UW had a trio of running backs — James White (11-143), Melvin Gordon (13-144), Corey Clement (16-101) — who each rushed for more than 100 yards, just the third time in school history that’s happened. Clement, incidentally, became the first true freshman at UW since P.J. Hill in 2006 to top 100 yards in his first game as a Badger. Yes, the opposition was “just” UMass, but Andersen and his Badgers showed that anyone who sleeps on UW does so at their own peril.

Butch JonesThank you, Lord
How thankful is the Tennessee fan base that Derek Dooley is no longer their head football coach? So thankful that they are offering up hallelujahs to the Big College Football Fan Upstairs for it. Literally. “Pregame prayer in Neyland [Stadium] thanked God for a new coach,” a tweet from govols247.com‘s Wes Rucker read. Butch Jones then proceeded to reward that faith as the Vols pounded overmatched Austin Peay 45-0. Yes, it was just a win over an FCS school, but it was also the Vols’ largest margin of victory since a 50-0 win over Tennessee-Martin in 2010 — the first game under Dooley, so maybe that’s not as good of omen upon further review. Still, it was a much-needed win for the fans on Rocky Top, one they will gladly take after three years of misery.

Right in his Scheelhaase
Normally when Illinois is mentioned in the Fifth Quarter, it’s part of the section right below this one. Not today, though. All Illini starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase did was throw for a career-high 416 yards — 340 in the first half — and two touchdowns in the 42-34 win over Southern Illinois. The win was satisfying for Scheelhaase personally as the quarterback has fought back from an injury-plagued 2012 season. It was also a critical one for the program. Even as the win was over an FCS opponent, it was a critical one as second-year head coach Tim Beckman has come under fire for a two-win 2012 season, with some saying this is a make-or-break season for the coach.

All hail your FCS conquerors

Scheduled as a guaranteed “W” in exchange for high six-figure or even low seven-figure payouts, most FBS teams feast on a steady early-season diet of FCS foes. Not in Week One, not this year. All told, a whopping eight FBS teams went down in flames over the past three days: No. 25 Oregon State (Eastern Washington), Kansas State (North Dakota State), San Diego State (Eastern Illinois; UConn (Towson), USF (McNeese State), Iowa State (Northern Iowa), South Alabama (Southern Utah) and Georgia State (Samford). We’ll let the latter two slide somewhat as they have just climbed from the FCS level to FBS status recently. The others? There’s no excuse for USF to lose by 32 points or San Diego State by 21. There’s no reason a ranked team like Oregon State should lose to a lower-level team, regardless of how good they are at that level. K-State? C’mon, I understand that NDSU is an FBS slayer, but there should still be no excuses in Little Manhattan. That said, and as was shown this weekend, there are some quality programs at that level. Schedule some of the upper-echelon teams at your own peril. And potential embarrassment.

Villanova, the Harlem Globetrotters of the FCS level
Villanova may not have been one of the FCS teams to pull off an upset, but they did have one of the plays of the year thus far. Facing a fourth down in their game against Boston College, ‘Nova lined up in punt formation… and proceeded to perform the ol’ double-snap fake-punt trick to score a touchdown. And, yes, it was as real and as spectacular as it sounds:

Villanova

 

49ers strike winning gold quickly
Since we’re on an FCS roll, let’s turn our attention to the Eastern part of the United States. In 2008, UNC-Charlotte announced that it would, for the first time ever, field a football team. Five years later, the 49ers made their debut… and it was smashing, with the 49ers putting a 52-7 woodshedding on visiting Campbell. The 49ers nearly doubled the opposition’s offensive production — 488 to 287 — and rolled to a 35-7 halftime lead. While an FCS team at the moment, the 49ers will move to the FBS level in 2015 as a member of Conference USA. While there may be many bumps in the road ahead, congratulations to head coach Brad Lambert and his coaching staff on such a scintillating start to the program.

LOSERS

Johnny Screwball?
As much as I really, really enjoy Johnny Manziel, the on-field preening and self-aggrandizing that costs his team needs to stop. And that comes from his head coach as well. In addition to his creative ways of taunting the NCAA noted above, Manziel was also flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct following his third touchdown pass of the second half, costing the Aggies 15 yards. He was removed from the game and didn’t return. “That was just a foolish penalty at the end. … I hoped that at this point he’d have learned something,” Kevin Sumlin said afterwards. “That wasn’t very smart. That’s why he wasn’t going back in the game, no matter what happened.” A&M declined to make Manziel available to the media following the win, likely a wise decision based on the fact that Manziel appeared to take out a whole offseason of frustration in his limited time on the field Saturday.

An offensive line, literallyAlabama head coach Saban questions a call from the referee in the second half of play against Virginia Tech at the Chick-fil-A  Kick-Off college NCAA football game in Atlanta
Having to replace three talented and veteran starters, it was a given that Alabama’s offensive line might take some time to gel as a unit. The fact that the Tide’s interior struggled as much as it did against a battered and beleaguered Virginia Tech squad, though, was surprising to say the least. In the first half, the Tide carried the ball 17 times — and gained just 30 yards. Toss in a pair of holding penalties and one sack of quarterback AJ McCarron, and it was a far from stellar effort from the line. For the game, the Tide rushed for just 96 yards on 38 carries, a paltry average of 2.5 yards per carry in the 35-10 win; last season, Alabama’s 5.6 ypc was tied for fourth in the country. It’s not a time to panic, but it is a little worrisome for Nick Saban and his offensive coaching staff with a road trip to College Station looming in a couple of weeks.

TC… you blew it
OK, maybe that’s a little strong, but why would Gary Patterson decide to punt the ball back to LSU, down 10, instead of trying to convert a fourth-and-2 with five minutes left? Yes, TCU was at its own 33-yard line, but when you’re down two scores you need to take the chance; miss it, game over. Punt it, game over. Go for it and make it, you still have life and plenty of time to extend the game and find some way to get the requisite two scores to either tie or win the game. As it played out, TCU simply couldn’t stop LSU post-punt as the Tigers put together three first downs in the final five minutes to seal a 37-27 win. A head-scratching end to what was a very good football game and a huge win for the Tigers, who very well could’ve just beaten the best the Big 12 has to offer.

Boy oh Boise
This very easily could’ve gone in the Winners section for Washington… but it won’t. Coming into the game ranked No. 19 in the country, Boise State proceeded to trip, stumble and bumble all over its junk in getting blown out by the Huskies 38-6. It was the Broncos’ largest margin of defeat since the first game of the 2005 season (48-13 to Georgia) and the fewest points scored since being shutout by another Pac-12 school (Washington State) in 1997. It was also just the third time since that Wazzu whitewash that the Broncos failed to reach double digits (2005, Fresno State; 2012, BYU). So, certainly, it was an epic beatdown for The Lil’ Program That Could, even as it came at the hands of a very focused and talented Huskies squad.

FCS foe hard on the Beaver
While we touched on this briefly up above, Oregon State deserves its own special calling out. In the Beavers’ embarrassing 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington, OSU became just the fourth ranked team ever to lose to an FCS team, joining Virginia Tech (James Madison, 2010), Michigan (2007) and Penn State (Cincinnati, 1983). Expected to possess a vastly improved defense, the Beavers surrendered an astounding 625 yards of total offense — 448 passing, 177 rushing. The Beavers can’t even blame turnovers as neither team coughed up the ball via either a fumble or an interception. No, this was simply an FBS team being outplayed at home by a squad from a lower level of football. And, whatever grief comes their way, it will be well-deserved.

Stoops, there it ain’t
Since being hired as Kentucky’s new head coach, Mark Stoops has made several big splashes along the recruiting trail. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, those splashes have yet to make an impact in the here and now. In Stoops’ head-coaching debut, the Wildcats traveled to in-state “rival” Western Kentucky and dropped a 35-26 decision to the Hilltoppers. And, in reality, the game wasn’t even that close as WKU held an 18-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Eventually, the hiring of Stoops will pay big dividends on the field; for now, people around the country will simply lament the same ol’ UK football woes.

Kirk Ferentz, Money Fleecer Extraordinaire
This season, Kirk Ferentz will make nearly $4 million as Iowa’s head coach. He has a contract that runs through the 2020 season and would cost the university tens of millions to buy him out of. The past three seasons, the Hawkeyes win total has gone from eight to seven to four in 2012, the lowest number for a Ferentz-coached team since his second season in 2000 (3-9). So, with the heat rising from the outside, what do the Hawkeyes do? Go out and lose the opener at home to Northern Illinois on a last-second field goal, of course. Don’t fret for Ferentz, however; he possesses the type of job security that 99 percent of coaches can only dream of. Whether he deserves that type of security, though, is another matter entirely.

First-year head coaches
Just barely, new head coaches at their respective schools fall into this category. During the offseason, there were 31 coaching changes; through the first three days, 29 have already made their debuts, with 15 of them coming out sans a “W”: Cal, FIU, Georgia State, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, New Mexico State, Purdue, USF, Southern Miss, Syracuse, Temple, Utah State and Western Michigan. Of course, that also means 14 came out with the coveted “W”: Arkansas, Arkansas State, Auburn, Boston College, Cincinnati, Kent State, North Carolina State, Northern Illinois, Oregon, San Jose State, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Western Kentucky and Wisconsin. Both Kentucky (WKU) and Louisiana Tech (NCSU) lost to teams in its first season under a new head coach. Colorado and UTEP can add to either side in the coming days, with the former opening the season against hated rival Colorado while the latter must wait until next weekend to open its season.

Oh, Pelini
With FAU trailing Miami 34-6 Friday and with just seconds left in the game, the Owls were facing a fourth-and-four at the Miami 25-yard line. At that point, FAU head coach Carl Pelini did, well, this:

 

[/facepalm]

Yes, Pelini called for his quarterback to spike the ball on fourth down. And, yes, Pelini was mortified upon realizing that he had called for a spike on fourth down. And, no, the gaffe had no impact on the game whatsoever, but it did add some embarrassment to a program that could use less of that, not more.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

— No. 18 Nebraska 37, Wyoming 34: Last year, the Cowboys were ranked 70th in the country in total offense (390.6 yards per game); Saturday, the Cornhuskers allowed the Cowboys to roll up 602 yards. The Huskers led this one by 16 early in the fourth quarter before the Cowboys scored a pair of touchdowns — off NU turnovers — in less than five minutes, the final coming with 1:32 left. A failed onside kick, however, kept Nebraska from suffering its first season-opening loss in 29 years.

— No. 22 Northwestern 44, Cal 30: The Wildcats didn’t grab the lead for good until the middle of the fourth quarter against a surprisingly spry Bears team playing its first game under head coach Sonny Dykes. The closeness of the contest should catch the eye of Ohio State, which travels to Berkeley two weeks from yesterday.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — The two-time defending BCS champions looked positively subpar on offense but, thanks to stellar defense and special teams, easily held off an injury-ravaged Virginia Tech. Especially along the offensive line, The Tide has some issues that need shoring up prior to the Sept. 14 road trip to College Station. (Preseason: No. 1)
Next up: bye weekend

2. Clemson — You beat a Top-Five opponent, you shoot up quite a few spots. Is this the year that Clemson (finally) stops Clemsoning itself? The win over Georgia was a solid sign it may indeed be. Or they stub their toes against The Citadel. One of the two. (Preseason: No. 8)
Next up: vs. South Carolina State

Buffalo v Ohio State3. Ohio State — A rather uninspiring 20-point win over Buffalo and Clemson’s showing drops the Buckeyes down a spot. (Preseason: No. 2)
Next up: vs. San Diego State

4. Stanford — The Cardinal sat out opening weekend and won’t open their 2013 season until next Saturday. (Preseason ranking: No. 3)
Next up: vs. San Jose State

5. Louisville — The Cardinals don’t open their season until later on today against Ohio at home. While Mark Ennis might punch me in the tentacles for doing so, I’m just going to go ahead and chalk this one up as an impressive “W” for Charlie Strong‘s charges. (Preseason: No. 4)
Next up: vs. Eastern Kentucky

HE SAID IT
“I was overcome with emotion. I think my son made me soft. I bawled my eyes out.” — Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, whose infant son was released from the hospital two days before the opener Thursday after spending the first three weeks of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“That’s how he is. He’s a fiery guy and that’s what we love about him. He’s not quiet. He’s not shy. He’s going to be loud and aggressive, and that’s what makes him Johnny Football. We love it.” — A&M offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi, on the ongoing circus that is Johnny Manziel.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“I don’t care how quick the offense scores. They could score on one play every time. As long as they’re scoring, I’m all for that.” — Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, on the Buckeyes’ up-tempo offense.

YOU DON’T SAY?
Courtesy of the Ohio State sports information department: With 77 rushing yards, Braxton Miller eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark in his career and now sits at 2,063. He is now 17 yards shy of Cornelius Greene’s Ohio State record of 2,080 yards rushing by a quarterback.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

— Clemson became the first non-SEC team ever to beat two Top-10 SEC teams in consecutive games, with the wins coming over No. 5 Georgia Saturday night and No. 8 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last New Year’s Eve.

— Northwestern linebacker Collin Lewis returned two interceptions for touchdowns (52, 40 yards) in the road win over Cal. Both of the pick-sixes came off deflections.

— Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams accounted for 518 yards of total offense (411 passing, 107 rushing) and six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) in the upset of Oregon State.

— McNeese State’s 53-21 win over USF was the largest margin of victory for an FCS program over an FBS program since Sam Houston State beat Louisiana-Monroe 44-12 back in 2001.

— In a wild 52-51 win over Rutgers Thursday night, Fresno State’s Derek Carr completed 52-of-73 passes for 456 yards and five touchdowns. His counterpart in that game, Gary Nova, threw for 348 yards and five touchdowns as well.

Virginia Tech v Alabama— Alabama’s Christion Jones became the first player at the FBS level since North Carolina’s Brandon Tate in 2006 to return both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown in the same game. According to the Alabama record books, which date back to 1944 the school stated, Jones is the first player in program history to accomplish that feat.

— Starting in place of ex-/future Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. Tommy Rees passed for 346 yards and three touchdowns in the Irish’s 28-6 win over Temple.

— In Marshall’s 52-14 win over Miami (Ohio), quarterback Rakeem Cato tossed five touchdown passes to four different receivers.

— SID Stat of the Day: Wisconsin has now won 16 consecutive season openers. That is tied with USC for the third-longest active streak in the country behind only Nebraska (28) and Florida (24).

— (First half) Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M had its streak of scoring first in 17 straight games snapped in the win against Rice.

— In its first game with Bret Bielema on the sidelines, Arkansas had two 100-yard rushers in the same game (Jonathan Williams 151, Alex Collins 131) for the first time since 2007, when Darren McFadden rushed for 321 yards and Felix Jones rushed for 163 vs. South Carolina.

— Baylor outgained Wofford 692-233 in the Bears’ 69-3 win. Running back Lache Seastrunk rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries.

— Maryland had 399 yards of total offense in the first half of their game with FIU. Last season, the Terps accounted for 400 yards or more of total offense in just two of their games.

Duke Johnson rushed for a career-high 189 yards — on just 19 carries — in Miami’s 28-point win over FAU. Miami rushed for 303 yards as a team; the Hurricanes high-water mark last season was 248.

— Speaking of Duke, the Blue Devils posted the football program’s first shutout in 24 years with its 45-0 win over North Carolina Central.

Blake Bortles passed for 314 yards and three touchdowns in UCF’s 38-7 win over Akron Thursday.

— The 73 points Indiana scored in Thursday’s win over Indiana State was the second-most in school history (76). The 45 first-half points were the most ever for the program.

As expected, Ohio State names Justin Fields starting QB

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We all knew it was going to happen the day he was granted immediate eligibility back in February but it finally became official on Monday: Justin Fields is Ohio State’s starting quarterback.

Change has been the only constant inside the Ohio State quarterback room over the past nine months, as Dwayne Haskins unexpectedly went pro, Urban Meyer retired, Ryan Day was promoted from the QB room to the big chair, Mike Yurcich was hired away from Oklahoma State to coach the Buckeyes’ quarterbacks, Fields transferred in, Tate Martell and Matthew Baldwin transferred out, and the Buckeyes added Kentucky transfer Gunnar Hoak to pair with the Georgia transfer fields and West Virginia transfer Chris Chugunov.

Day insisted Fields would not be handed the Ohio State job and, perhaps to the dismay of Ohio State’s fortunes this season, it took him most of training camp to fend off Hoak.

Still, we all knew Fields was going to be Ohio State’s starter, just as we all knew Kyler Murray was going to start for Oklahoma last year no matter how much Lincoln Riley insisted otherwise. A word of caution, though: Don’t assume Fields will produce Murray-level results. This was indeed a battle for Fields to win the job.

A 5-star recruit in the class of 2018, Fields appeared in 12 games as a true freshman for the Bulldogs. He completed 27-of-39 passes for 328 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing 42 times for 266 yards and four touchdowns… and one ill-fated fake punt attempt.

Fields will have three seasons of eligibility for the Buckeyes, a career that will officially begin with the first snap against against Florida Atlantic on Aug. 31 (noon ET, FOX).

Clemson, Alabama top preseason AP Top 25

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This won’t come as a shock to you, but Clemson and Alabama will begin 2019 where they finished 2018 — as the top two teams in the nation. The two programs to win the sport’s last four national championships are overwhelmingly favored to extend their combined streak to five, with the three programs nipping at their heels — Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State — rounding out the top five.

Clemson’s nod as the No. 1 team ended Alabama’s streak of three consecutive years as the preseason No. 1. The Tide, however, continue their streak of 11 straight seasons inside the AP’s preseason top-5. Ohio State has started seven straight seasons inside the AP top-6.

At the bottom of the poll, Nebraska got by far the benefit of the doubt. The Huskers shook off their 4-8 record of 2018 to check in at No. 24, becoming the first team since Alabama in 2000-01 to lose eight games in one season and appear in the AP preseason Top 25 the next.

Michigan is also a big beneficiary, as the Wolverines leaped from No. 14 in the final 2018 poll to No. 7 today. Nine teams from the final AP top-10 of 2018 returned, as the Wolverines replaced Washington State, No. 10 to close 2018, who fell all the way to No. 23.

The full poll:

1. Clemson — 1,540 total points
2. Alabama — 1,496
3. Georgia — 1,403
4. Oklahoma — 1,331
5. Ohio State — 1,261
6. LSU — 1,199
7. Michigan — 1,164
8. Florida — 1,054
9. Notre Dame — 1,044
10. Texas — 1,005
11. Oregon — 860
12. Texas A&M — 852
13. Washington — 786
14. Utah — 772
15. Penn State — 651
16. Auburn — 578
17. UCF — 410
18. Michigan State — 377
19. Wisconsin — 370
20. Iowa — 330
21. Iowa State — 302
22. Syracuse — 209
23. Washington State — 200
24. Nebraska — 154
25. Stanford — 141

CFT Previews: A six pack of must-see games

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The directive said to write about a six pack of must-see games for the upcoming season, but since I’m the one doing the typing here, I’m going to alter the directive a bit and write exclusively about non-conference games here. Spoiler alert: Texas-OU, Michigan-Ohio State and Alabama-LSU are going to be important again this year.

Let’s talk, in no particular order, about the important games that don’t happen every year.

Miami vs. Florida (Aug. 24, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, at Orlando): We’re not just including this because it’s the first. This one has real, juicy football implications. Riding a 4-game winning streak to end last season, Florida has generated tons of optimism this season. Well, let’s see how long that optimism sticks around when the Gators’ re-tooled offensive line goes up against the nation’s No. 1 passing defense from a year ago. Remember, Florida scored 16.3 points per game in its three losses last season. On the other side of the ball, it’s redshirt freshman Jarren Williamsfirst start, while N’Kosi Perry and Tate Martell wait for him to throw his first incompletion. If Williams succeeds, Miami could be a legit contender to Clemson in the ACC. If Florida prevails, Georgia could have a challenge in the East.

Auburn vs. Oregon (Aug. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC, at Dallas): It’s rare to see an entire conference put its reputation on the line in a single evening, and yet here we are yet again. Last year, Washington trekked south and east to face this same Auburn program, lost, and then watched the entire Pac-12 fade from the Playoff conversation the moment the Huskies’ Oct. 13 loss to Oregon went final. The calculus is simple: The Pac-12 is too treacherous, too even for any one team to go undefeated, and no 2-loss conference champion has ever made the Playoff, lest of all a 2-loss Pac-12 champion. Ipso facto, Oregon could be all but eliminated from the Playoff before September even begins.

Cincinnati at Ohio State (Sept. 7, noon ET on ABC): Let’s be honest, nearly ever player wearing Cincinnati red and black imagined themselves wearing Ohio State scarlet and gray instead. Here’s their chance to prove it. The Bearcats went 11-2 last season under head coach Luke Fickell — a Columbus native and a former Buckeye nose guard, graduate assistant assistant coach, co-coordinator, interim head coach and co-coordinator again who definitely saw himself becoming Ohio State’s head coach some day, most likely after Urban Meyer stepped away at some point in the distant future. While Fickell took what looked like the next step — proving he had the goods to be a head coach, at a program that recruited the same area as Ohio State — Ryan Day swooped in and took the job Fickell thought would be his. Now here’s his one and only chance to shove it in his former boss Gene Smith‘s face, in his stadium, on national TV. And, oh by the way, the game should be pretty good, too. Cincinnati could very well win the AAC this season and, if the reports about Justin Fields struggling to win the starting quarterback job are true, Ohio State could be vulnerable in Game 2 with a new quarterback and a new coaching staff. Consider this your season-shaking upset alert.

(This is the point where you’d expect me to include Texas A&M at Clemson, scheduled between these games on Sept. 7, but I’m not going to for this reason: Even if A&M beats Clemson, I don’t think the Aggies can make the Playoff; even if Clemson loses to A&M, I think the Tigers are going to the Playoff. Fun? Yes. Must-see? Eh.)

LSU at Texas (Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC): It’s two college football blue-bloods playing a clash of cultures that also happens to be a border war. It’s LSU’s first trip to Austin since 1954. It’s the ultimate Big 12 vs. SEC proving ground game. It’ll be played under the lights before a national audience. It’s everything a non-conference home-and-home series is supposed to be. Honestly, it might even be too much. Someone in the stands at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium might die on this sure-to-be-sweltering Austin night.

Outside of all that, it’s also a mighty interesting football game. LSU and Texas both fancy themselves as the next programs to step up and join the elite of the elite, with a chance to prove that by beating the other. Joe Burrow will showcase LSU’s new, we’re-really-doing-it-this-time spread offense against a talented secondary led by All-American candidate Caden Sterns, while Sam Ehlinger gets to make his Heisman case against the best defense’s he’s ever faced. Then there’s the storyline that LSU pursued Tom Herman before going after Ed Orgeron back in November of 2016. Again, it’s too much for a single non-conference game.

Notre Dame at Georgia (Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET on CBS): Don’t let anyone ever tell you Notre Dame isn’t relevant. The Irish’s first trip inside an SEC stadium since 2004 is enough to get CBS to lower Alabama-LSU from its No. 1 slot for the first time since 2010, and for good reason. This game is going to be a mad house. Both of these programs reached the Playoff in the past two years, and yet it seems like only one program’s trip seems to really count — the team in red and black. It seems TV executives have more faith in Notre Dame’s prospects than fans and writers. Well, there’s no surer route to changing minds than to go into the heart of the South and slay one of the SEC’s sacred cows.

USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC): Yes, we’re going back to the same well, but with a different angle. We’ll go more in depth on this tomorrow, but this one is about USC and head coach Clay Helton. Helton sits on the hottest seat in all of college football, and his first-half schedule does him no favors: vs. defending Mountain West champion Fresno State, vs. No. 23 Stanford, at BYU, vs. No. 15 Utah, at No. 12 Washington, at No. 9 Notre Dame. That’s four ranked (according to the Coaches’ Poll, which is all we have as of press time) teams and two of the most difficult Group of 5 opponents possible. If Notre Dame limps into South Bend at 2-3 or 1-4 and then loses to Notre Dame? Helton might be fired on the tarmac Lane Kiffin style, and then it’s off to the races for one of the most desirable jobs in the entire sport. If USC arrives 5-0 or 4-1 and then beats Notre Dame? Helton is good to go and USC bullets into a manageable second half schedule as a Pac-12 and Playoff contender.

 

Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze recovering from potentially life-threatening staph infection

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It appears Hugh Freeze has dodged what could’ve been a fatal bullet.

Liberty announced Tuesday that Hugh Freeze was dealing with severe back spasms and had been unable to participate in practices since Sunday.  As it turns out, there was a significantly more serious underlying issue than simple back spasms as the first-year Flames head football coach told Chris Low of ESPN.com that he underwent emergency surgery at the University of Virginia Medical Center Friday “after a potentially life-threatening strand of staph infection entered his bloodstream.”

From Low’s report:

The doctors told me if it had been another 24 hours, that strand of bacteria could have gotten to my heart and that I would have been fighting for my life,” Freeze told ESPN. “It’s the way God works because there’s no doubt that bacteria would have killed me if President [Jerry] Falwell [Jr.] wasn’t so quick to make sure we got the right people involved.”

When Freeze first told Falwell about the excruciating pain he was experiencing in his back, one of the first calls Falwell made was to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, one of the leading pioneers in neurosurgery. Carson spoke with Liberty professor Anthony Nobles, renowned in the medical device field, and the decision was made to transport Freeze from the hospital in Lynchburg to UVA Medical Center.

Falwell sent the Liberty plane to Scottsdale, Arizona, to bring in Dr. Dilan Ellegala, another leading neurosurgeon who developed his own ultrasonic technology (Sonospine) for spinal surgery, and Ellegala was the one who performed Freeze’s surgery at UVA Medical Center in Charlottesville.

The 49-year-old Freeze remains hospitalized and will continue so for the foreseeable future.  When he is released and resumes his football duties, he’ll likely have to coach from a golf cart as the Flames finish up summer camp; for Liberty’s opener against Syracuse Aug. 31, it’s expected Freeze will have to coach from the booth.

Hired by the Flames in December of last year, Freeze is set to enter his first season as the head coach at the football independent.  Freeze had been out of coaching for two full seasons following his unceremonious ouster as the head coach at Ole Miss in July of 2017.