The Open Man Q&A: Overreactions in College Football; Planning for Week 2

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A grab-bag of items from this week before jumping into Q&A:

  • I’m elated that Loyola and Nevada will play again in a rematch of March’s Sweet 16 game. If power-conference programs won’t schedule elite mid-majors, the mids have to take matters into their own hands and play each other.

    It’s an interesting experiment that could either eliminate them from contention, or bolster their NCAA Tournament resumes depending on the new selection process metric.

  • Deadspin’s investigative feature on Fansided is worth your time. It may seem like inside baseball, but it sheds some important light on the state of sports media in 2018. A subsidiary of a major media corporation portraying itself as The Little Guy, employing tactics that unethically flout federal independent contractor laws and producing mostly sophomoric content when it has the capacity for more ambitious work, isn’t a solution to the preexisting problems plaguing the industry. It’s only the introduction of different problems.

Ah, Week 1 overreactions. They’re as much a tradition of September’s first weekend as Labor Day cookouts, and about as enjoyable as a Thanksgiving political conversation with that one uncle who insists Joe McCarthy was good.

A few of the more eye-roll worthy are owed more to confirmation(?) bias than overreaction; pundit-y types were banging the gong against Jim Harbaugh before even the 2017 season, and TV analysts were saying the Pac-12 would be shut out of the Playoff before Washington lost to Auburn. That latter one might be the more absurd, given the Huskies took control of this ostensible road game midway through the second quarter and owe their five-point loss to self-inflicted errors as much as anything.

But, whew buddy, the LSU takes flying in after the Tigers’ rout of Miami. I was surprised by the outcome, absolutely. But I don’t view LSU as a viable contender in the SEC West by any stretch. The Tigers looked to me as they have looked in most seasons, with plenty of NFL-caliber talent on defense but enough iffiness on offense to suspect it costs them a few games.

Miami played a horrible game on offense and special teams, with the two phases working in concert to set up LSU with prime field position on multiple occasions. Steve Ensminger replaced Matt Canada as offensive coordinator, with Ed Orgeron publicly tossing the latter under the bus this offseason, and Ensminger not calling plays in two decades. LSU averaged 4.7 yards per game — the same output as Tennessee, Arizona and, yes, Miami in Week 1.

Nothing about LSU’s performance screamed that its offensive woes were fixed, and that’s still the most realistic roadblock between the Tigers and SEC West contention.

Speaking of overreactions, Arizona’s anemic offense through three quarters against BYU certainly turned the tide against Khalil Tate. The Trae Young comparison is a great one, though, because both burst onto the scene and their individual excellence momentarily elevated a team to a higher level than its collective ability.

The problem with that is unless, it’s the NBA — which specifically tailors its rules and thus strategy for the best individual players to always have an advantage — defenses will adjust and force another phase to beat them. Oklahoma’s opponents the first few months of 2017-18 collapsed on Young when he’d penetrate and would leave otherwise shaky shooters with can’t-miss looks. That inflated both the Sooners’ point totals and Young’s assist numbers. The manner in which defenses responded actually resulted in better defense on Young’s teammates — because opponents were actually forcing Young to do even more.

Arizona’s Week 1 looked like the football version of that. While the offense last season during Tate’s remarkable October centered around Tate’s explosive playmaking, his long runs resulted in huge holes for running backs Nick Wilson and J.J. Taylor, as well as wide-open big-play passes, that existed specifically as a result of defenses preparing to collapse on Tate. BYU limiting Taylor in Week 1 put more responsibility on Tate’s ability to distribute the ball on intermediate and deep routes that weren’t open.

I do believe that the odd playcalling that vexed Arizona against BYU was Kevin Sumlin and Noel Mazzone attempting to address opponent adjustments to Tate’s explosive rushing. At the same time, Mazzone remained too committed to the strategy in Week 1.

For as regular of a target as Mazzone is, reality is that his lowest scoring offense since returning to the college game in 2011 put up more than 32 points per game; that was a 2015 UCLA team with a true freshman quarterback. I expect to see Arizona adjust against Houston with an offense more akin to that which UCLA ran with Brett Hundley, which should make more effective use of Khalil Tate’s mobility.

On Saturdays in which I’m not working a game live, I often have to make a guide ahead of time so I have planned the best time to take my four-year-old out to do something. Typically, the 9 a.m. Pacific window isn’t too thrilling, but Week 2 is an exception.

Mississippi State at Kansas State is the highlight of the early window. Despite K-State’s struggles to beat South Dakota, I anticipate the Wildcats giving a dark horse from the SEC West all it can handle. Arizona-Houston lost some of its luster due to the Wildcats’ Week 1 loss and Houston’s uninspiring win over Rice, but I’m not ready to write that one off just yet. Likewise, the early slate features a couple potential low-key games in Northwestern-Duke and Georgia Tech-USF.

The late window also includes a variety of potentially great under-the-radar games. Arizona State-Michigan State is rife with upset potential; Cal-BYU has way more intrigue than it would have seemed before last week; and an outstanding USC-Stanford matchup leads into the evening contests.

The best bet to take a stroll, go to the grocery store, what-have-you is midway Pacific Time, late-afternoon Eastern. Much of it’s contingent on South Carolina-Georgia, as I feel the first quarter will tell the story. If the Gamecocks are competitive, upset watch is on. But this could also be the classic example of a hyped home crowd instantly deflated by a superior opponent.

Most intriguing among the midday/early afternoon Pacific games is Iowa-Iowa State. It’s cultivated a dismissive reputation on college football social media that, like most dismissive reputations on college football social media, stems from an unfunny and no-longer-relevant SB Nation in-joke. Seriously, last year’s Iowa-Iowa State game was one of the most exciting contests of the season, and continuing to refer to it as “El Assico” is equivalent to “what’s the deal with airline food?” material.

As for Texas A&M-Clemson … eh. I can’t envision the Aggies giving the Tigers a competitive game.