The Complete Guide to College Football, Week Three Edition

Who's a contender? Who's a pretender? Some early guesses below...

In professional football, the sample size of games from which conclusions are drawn is quite small; every game then has more importance in determining each team’s value and each player’s value to the team. Fantasy football players like to do this as well, overreacting to halves or even quarters of football so they can uncover patterns that lead to greater fantasy value. The problem with overreacting is that you throw all the previous hard work and analysis to the wind and essentially draw conclusions out of noise and randomness. At this time last year, the New Orleans Saints looked like world beaters after crushing the Packers, 38-3, and the Texans looked like they were going to have a high-flying offense after dropping 37 points on the Jaguars. 17 weeks later, the Saints missed the playoffs and the Texans had a top-3 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

In college football, the sample size is even smaller; there are 12 NCAAF games to the NFL’s 17, which makes conclusions even noisier and overreactions greater. College football media coverage is quick to overreact to games after months and months of thoughtfully-crafted analysis. Further confusing these reactions is the imbalance in competition level, as some teams refuse to schedule meaningful games outside of conference play (UCLA and Michigan, come on down!), while other teams treat the out-of-conference schedule as a chance to play superior competition (Kent State, you’re my hero!) for a nice paycheck. But, we have no choice but to overreact to small sample sizes in college football, because if we waited until the dust settled to determine which teams were playing according to their peripherals, the analysis would have to come after the season, when it’s no good to anyone.

All of this is to say, “Don’t overreact too much if your team isn’t playing lights-out in Week 1 or Week 2.” The season isn’t over after a surprising loss and most teams aren’t going to the Playoff after a big win.

 

Recapping Week 2

 

The Good:

The Sun Belt Conferenceย (3 upsets): Two teams from the Sun Belt knocked off a Top-10 opponent on their opponents’ home fields. First, Appalachian State handled the talented Texas A&M at one of the most hostile venues in college football, Kyle Field. The Mountaineers held on to win, 17-14, in what could easily have been confused for a mid-November Big Ten game.

A&M’s QB, Haynes King, completed 65% of his pass attempts, which should have helped the Aggies move the ball up the field. However, he averaged just under 5 yards per completion, and threw for only 97 yards. That’s not great for scoring points, but it might have been fine if the rushing game had carried the weight. A&M’s lead rusher, Devon Achane, ran only 10 times for 66 yards. For those keeping track, that’s 163 yards of total offense between A&M’s two biggest playmakers.

A&M probably could have lost by an even wider margin, considering the Mountaineers nearly doubled up the Aggies in yardage, first downs, and pretty much every other offensive stat. App. State had possession for 41 minutes of this game, compared to Texas A&M’s mere 18 minutes of possession. The A&M defense must have been exhausted after being on the field for 2/3 of the game!

Maybe A&M’s defense was able to remain so strong thanks to this tradition:

This is totally a real tradition, by the way.

Elsewhere, Sun Belt member Marshall, of “We Are Marshall” fame, defeated Notre Dame in South Bend to push the Irish to 0-2 and the Herd to 2-0. The Herd battled like crazy in Notre Dame Stadium, trading late leads with the 8th-ranked Irish throughout the second half.

Marshall’s defense showed out for its third interception of the day just a few plays later to clinch the win:

26 points was all the Herd needed to complete the second top-10 upset of the day. Now, not only does Notre Dame have to deal with the pain of losing to an unranked team at home, but they’re also going to be missing starting QB Tyler Buchner for the rest of the season. It’s going to be a tough introductory season for new head coach Marcus Freeman.

Finally, in the last big upset of the day for the Fun Belt, Georgia Southern dropped 642 yards of offense on Nebraska, a record for yardage allowed by the Cornhuskers at home. Southern’s offense moved through Nebraska’s “defense” just! like! butter!ย  QB Kyle Vantrease threw for 409 yards, while the rushing game combined for a whopping 233 yards on 30 carries, an impressive average of 7.8 yards per carry.

Nebraska took another L later, thanks to this post from Georgia Southern:

The Cornhuskers can’t seem to stop taking Ls, can they?

 

Back to the Good:

BYU –ย Don’t look now, but the Cougars are 2-0 and have a convincing win over South Florida and a win over a Top-10 opponent for their Playoff resume. BYU held on to beat Baylor in 2OT, which pushed the Cougars up 9 spots in the Top 25, all the way up to #12. It’s always difficult making the Playoff as an FBS Independent program because the Cougars can’t add “Conference Champion” to their resume like Alabama or Ohio State might, giving BYU little margin for error. But, it’s not unprecedented for independent teams to make Playoff appearances, with Notre Dame making the Playoff twice in its existence (just don’t ask the Irish what they do once they make the Playoff).

If BYU can continue to stack up wins against quality teams — and they have the chance to do so, with games against #25 Oregon, Notre Dame, #10 Arkansas, Boise State, and Stanford on the docket — they will receive some serious consideration for a Playoff spot. What fun it would be to see another religious-affiliated school get slaughtered by Alabama in the first round!

Kentucky –ย Basketball season is still a few months away. At least the football version of the Wildcats, who are 2-0 and easily handled #12 Florida in The Swamp, might be appointment watching until then.

Tennessee –ย I may owe Pittsburgh an apology after not believing in them in last week’s article. Luckily for me and the Pittsburgh hater club (TM), the Vols racked up a quality win away from Knoxville by holding on to beat the Panthers in overtime.

Kansas –ย Since 2010, the Jayhawks have never won more than 3 games in a season. 4-time Super Bowl champion Charlie Weis couldn’t turn this program around. NCAA national champion Les Miles couldn’t do it, either.

This program looked like it was beyond fixing. Much like Duke, Kansas football looked doomed to be a tiny appetizer for basketball season forever.

Not anymore! The Jayhawks improved to 2-0 with a win over West Virginia in Morgantown, thanks to a pick-six in overtime!

Kansas’ schedule looks a lot more difficult moving forward, as the Jayhawks travel to Houston to take on a solid Group of 5 program this week. Then, Kansas hosts another historically awful football program with a historically elite basketball program in Duke at the end of September. But, I’m cautiously optimistic for the Jayhawks; it looks like new coach Lance Leipold has this group moving in the right direction, and they may be able to weather some of the incoming storm. This season should already be considered a massive success, but if they win more than 3 games, it’ll put a hammerlock on Leipold’s job security.

 

The Bad:

Wisconsin and Iowa – So much offseason focus from Big Ten fans was on whether UCLA and USC could survive in Big Ten-style games. The bigger concern should be on whether Big Ten teams can survive against barely competent offenses.

Remember last week, when Washington State could barely beat FCS Idaho?

Seven points. A Big Ten offense, with most of the recruiting power in the world (it’s hard to convince high schoolers to come play in Iowa City, but they still have booster money!), scored sevenย points.

Iowa football is just a test to see how long you can watch before you change the channel. When FOX airs Iowa games, they make sure to limit the commercials because you’re already hate-watching enough to have to suffer through the same 4 Wendy’s commercials. When Iowa football is on, you can paint your house, mow your lawn, and do the dishes and get the same amount of enjoyment as watching 4 quarters of the Hawkeyes. When Iowa football is on, FOX tries to stick it on their 19th network so that Sickos like myself have to do a lot of work to tune in.

Basketball season is coming soon, at least?

Also bad – Teams that lost games to FCS opponents: A quick “In Memoriam” for the teams that paid probably significant amounts of money to lose to colleges you’ve definitely never heard of.

  • Incarnate Word defeated Nevada, 55-41.
  • Holy Cross defeated Buffalo, 37-31.
  • Weber State manhandled Utah State, 35-7.
  • Eastern Kentucky defeated Bowling Green in a barn burner, 59-57.
  • (Not a loss in the W-L column, but a loss in my heart) Coastal Carolina survives Gardner-Webb, 31-27.

 

Revisiting Preseason Predictions

 

It’s time for me to revisit my predictions from the Preseason Edition of this article. For a refresher and my reasoning, please click here.

Feeling Good-ish

“Most Commonly in the ‘Others Receiving Votes’ Section: UCF” –ย UCF lost a stunner to Louisville last week, knocking them down to 1-1, which is both good and bad for this prediction. The good news is, the AP voters won’t want to trust UCF with a ton of votes after this loss, so the Knights have the potential to sneak into the Top 25 very slowly. This slow ascent would force them to spend a handful of weeks in the “Others Receiving Votes” section. The bad news is, the AP voters don’t trust UCF with any votes right now, as they have dropped out of Top 25 consideration completely for the time being. The Knights won’t have a chance to prove themselves as a team worthy of Top 25 votes in the upcoming weeks, as UCF takes on Florida Atlantic and Georgia Tech to round out September. Neither of those teamsย shouldย push UCF very hard, but the wins won’t be impressive enough for the Knights to push back into consideration for a Top 25 spot.

Too Early to Tell

“Most Likely to Start the Season Ranked but Finish with a Losing Record: Arkansas” –ย This one looks especially bad after Arkansas held on to beat then-ranked Cincinnati in Fayetteville in Week 1 and then took care of business against South Carolina in Week 2. The Hogs have a cupcake matchup against Missouri State this weekend to improve to 3-0, but then face Texas A&M and Alabama in consecutive weeks. After a brief “respite” against Mississippi State, Arkansas then has to travel to Provo to take on the suddenly very good BYU Cougars. If Sam Pittman has this program headed in the right direction, the Hogs could split this 4-game set or even go 3-1, but it feels more likely that they’ll go 1-3 and be looking at a 4-3 record heading into the final stretch of the season.

“Most Overhyped: USC” –ย I’m going to be generous to my previous self and stick USC in the “too early to tell” column because the Trojans have played Rice and Stanford thus far, and those two programs aren’t exactly the juggernauts of the college football world. Stanford is still in the midst of a “rebuild” year and Rice is Rice. I’m not ready to anoint the Trojans as the kings of the Pac-12 just yet; the next portion of their schedule includes games against a strong G5 program in Fresno State and a visit to upstart Oregon State. Win those two, and we’ll talk.

Feeling Very Bad

“Most Underrated: Nebraska” –ย Nebraska now sits at 1-2 on the season after losses to very beatable teams, Northwestern and Georgia Southern. I was too optimistic to think that they could win 3 consecutive games against teams in the bottom half of Division I football. Oh, and they fired their head coach, essentially waving the white flag on this season.

Predicting Oregon as the #4 seed in the College Football Playoff –ย This one went up in smoke after the Ducks were crushed by Georgia in Week 1, 49-3. It was not a good look for Dan Lanning’s squad, and they’ve dropped all the way down to #25 in the AP Top 25 because of it. The loss is likely going to keep the Ducks out of the Playoff picture, barring some extremely fortuitous losses by the teams ahead of them and the Ducks running the table against Pac-12 competition. They would also need to fire up some dominant performances against the Pac-12’s best.

 

 

Projecting the CFP

 

1. Georgia

Nothing’s really changed since last week, except the Bulldogs are a million dollars or so lighter in the budget because they had to pay Samford for their annual beatdown. That, and Georgia has the better quality of win in out-of-conference play than Alabama does. I wish teams like Georgia would schedule better games in out-of-conference play, instead of Utah State, New Mexico State, and the poor sap FCS schools in need of a payday.

2. Ohio State (2a)/Michigan (2b)

Same as last week. This isn’t going to change until one of these teams slips up or we have a result from The Game in November. See my previous writings for a longer explanation for the 2a/2b setup.

3. Alabama

Don’t let Alabama’s close win at Texas fool you: this team isn’t going anywhere. Hoping for an Alabama upset is a fool’s errand and too much of an emotional drain. They’ve only moved because I have to look like I care about the result of the Texas game. In reality, Alabama’s going to be a machine for the next 13 weeks. See you in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game!

4. Clemson

Yawn. Won’t someone else please crash this party?

 

Potential CFP teams to watch: USC, Tennessee, Oklahoma, BYU, Oklahoma/Oklahoma State, Minnesota, Michigan State

 

Ranking the Top 25 Teams and the Bottom 10

 

Top 25:

Adam’s Top 25 Ranking

This ranking is a blend of my model and real-life results. Some teams grade very favorably on the model that havenโ€™t performed up to standards โ€” Nebraska โ€” and some teams perform well above their model rating. One team that Iโ€™ve been very pleased by, which is outperforming its model rating by just a smidge, is Florida State. They took care of business against Duquesne and then beat LSU to improve to 2-0. They get some of the easy parts of the ACC next, with a matchup against Louisville on September 16th and Boston College on September 24th. After Utah lost to โ€œunrankedโ€ Florida, I felt like they didnโ€™t need to be in the Top 25 at all, even if the model still views them favorably. The same goes for Oregon, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and even Texas A&M (for now).

Also “Receiving Votes” (in no particular order):

  • Florida
  • Oregon
  • Pittsburgh
  • Cincinnati
  • Washington State
  • Washington
  • UCLA
  • Utah
  • North Carolina?

Vindication for my anti-Pittsburgh take last week! It wasn’t the resounding Vols win I had hoped for, but Tennessee held on for a wild win in Pittsburgh, and they’ve got my vote for a Top-20 spot. If they can keep winning games and pushing Georgia for the SEC East division title, they’ll stay high in my ranks.

A few teams I’m more optimistic about than AP voters are: Minnesota, Kansas State, and Florida State. All three have been playing above expectations and have perfect records as a result. Minnesota has a great chance to enter conference play with a 3-0 record, as they face awful Pac-12 program Colorado next week. K-State has a decent matchup against Tulane this week as a final tune-up before a visit to Oklahoma. Finally, Florida State mightย be back for the first time since Jameis Winston was under center. The ‘Noles get a matchup against Louisville this week, which should be a better barometer of how they’ll fare in ACC play. I think they’ll be fine, given how they played against LSU a few weeks ago and the significant amount of high-end talent on the roster.

Teams I’m more pessimistic about: Florida, Oregon, and Auburn. I’m not sure that Florida is particularly good at this stage of the season. They beat Utah in Week 1, which had me thinking the Gators were Top-25 caliber, and then looked outmatched against Top 25 team Kentucky last week, falling 26-16 at home. For now, they’ll stay outside the Top 25, but it’s a good sign that they’re even lingering in that area a year after going 6-7 overall and 2-6 in SEC play.

Auburn hasn’t done enough to deserve a Top-20 spot. They’ve won their games so far, but Auburn hasn’t looked particularly inspiring in either win, beating FCS Mercer by 26 and a below-average San Jose State squad by just 8 points. They’ll face a much stronger test next week against Penn State, which should be much more revealing of Auburn’s ceiling.

Upset with my rankings? Call me out on Twitter at @MrAdster99.ย 

 

Bottom 10:

Adam’s Bottom 10 Ranking

Every team from Connecticut all the way down to Massachusetts was considered for the worst team in FBS. Connecticut and Florida International have wins thus far, but their wins have come against some very bad FCS teams, so I don’t have a lot of optimism for either squad. New Mexico State, Charlotte, and Hawaii have looked equally embarrassing in their 3 losses this season, none of which have been particularly close. Luckily, Hawaii gets a matchup against FCS Duquesne at home next week, so they may be able to pick up their first win of the season late Saturday night.

Reminder: Charlotte has lost to an FCS team and now two FBS teams. The 49ers might not get a win this season, given that their final out-of-conference game is against South Carolina next week. Maybe they’ll beat Florida International?

 

(After) Week 2 Bowl Projections, Including New Year’s 6 Matchups

 

 

Bowl projections are really hard to do at this stage of the season because we don’t have a good sense of each team’s overall strength. As previously mentioned, overreactions are easy to come by at this time, especially since most teams haven’t played a quality opponent yet, so these bowl projections are based on an incredibly small sample size that has a lot of noise.

Furthermore, bowl projections are difficult enough to do even 6 weeks into the season because it requires a lot of guesswork about the Playoff Committee’s views of Playoff-contending teams, which is famously made up of humans, not computers with predictable algorithms. Bowl matchups, especially the ones closer to New Year’s Day, are heavily dependent on the Top 25 and Playoff rankings from the Committee. When one team moves up into the top four in the country, it creates a ripple effect that changes several other bowl matchups.

Further adding to the bowl projection guesswork is the lack of transparency behind the bowl selection process. Many conferences choose to move teams around to different bowl matchups based on factors like geography, travel time, opponent (which makes bowl matchup selection confusingly circular), TV timeslot, and payout. There’s no strict connection between record and bowl placement. Some bowls do have “tie-ins,” where the bowl will specifically agree with a conference to only select teams from that conference to play in the bowl game. For example, the Rose Bowl generally features the best team from the Pac-12 and the best team from the Big Ten. However, those games are few and far between.

ESPN has the right to move certain teams into one of their own bowl matchups, so even though certain conferences have specific number of tie-ins to fill, they may not meet that obligation because ESPN could move a team out of an official bowl tie-in and into one of ESPN’s own bowls at a more advantageous time slot. Bowl season is big money, folks.

So, with all of that out of the way, here are my initial bowl projections for the 2022-23 bowl season:

Bowl Projections After Week 2

The Playoff Pool generally reaches into the tens of millions of dollars in payouts, but the exact amount won’t be known until bowl season is over.

 

Games to Watch This Week

 

[FRIDAY GAME] Florida State at Louisville – Florida State gets to defend its 2-0 record against a middle-of-the-pack ACC opponent. Like I said earlier, this will be a nice litmus test for how the Seminoles will fare in conference play. If they keep playing well, the race for the ACC Atlantic Division title could be much more interesting than in years past. Louisville has been puzzling because they looked completely flat against Syracuse, another mediocre ACC team, and then beat a solid UCF team in Orlando a week ago.

[SICKOS MATCHUP]ย Nevada at Iowaย – The Wolfpack visit the nation’s most inept offense in Iowa City. First one to 10 points wins.

Penn State at Auburn –ย If you’re a fan of subpar QB play and strong defenses, this is definitely the game for you. Penn State is 2-0 and has a nice win over Purdue on their resume; a win over the Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium would be huge for the Nittany Lions because it would add legitimacy to their Playoff hopes and secure additional votes in the AP poll before the meat grinder of Big Ten conference play. Meanwhile, Auburn can show that its 2-0 start is legitimate with a win over Penn State. The Tigers haven’t faced SEC quality competition thus far, and Penn State is much closer to what they’ll face in the SEC than SJSU or Mercer, so this will be a good way to gauge whether Auburn is truly a Top 25 team at this stage of the season.

BYU at Oregonย – Much like Pittsburgh, I’m pretty sure BYU is a “pretender,” not a contender for the Playoff. Yes, BYU has a win over a former Top 10 team in Baylor, but are we sure that BYU is really the 12th-best team in the country (according to the AP Poll)? Both of their wins have come at home and the win over Baylor was a very tight one, which doesn’t completely delegitimize the wins, but it does water them down for me. The Cougars will need to travel elsewhere and look like a dominant team, not a team that survived in overtime at home, to warrant a ranking as high as 12th. Conveniently, BYU has the perfect opportunity to do so, traveling to Autzen Stadium to take on #25 Oregon, who is still recovering from the whippin’ they took against Georgia in Atlanta in Week 1. Oregon can show that it’s still the team to beat in the Pac-12 with a win over a quality opponent here.

Kansas at Houston –ย Please, Jayhawks, make this matchup a close one. I’d love nothing more than to see football-hapless Kansas have a good season.

Miami at Texas A&M –ย It’s another litmus test game! The early returns in Coral Gables suggest that Miami might be good this season, while Texas A&M looks to rebound from their ugly loss to App. State. If A&M can win, I think they’ll keep their small Playoff hopes alive — they still have hope, unlike Oregon, because A&M plays in the SEC, which the Playoff committee sees as the best competition in the sport — and regain the confidence they surely lost after last week’s shocker.ย  For Miami, this will add a third win to their record and show the voters that the Hurricanes are for real in the Playoff chase this year. Plus, it’ll be a great confidence booster before the ‘Canes roll into ACC play. And, any win over a Top 25 team at any stage of the season is good, regardless of what precedes it or follows it.

SMU at Marylandย – Maryland, a notoriously good September team and notoriously mediocre or bad in every other month, takes on a very fun SMU team. The Pony Express can score points by the boatloads, and Maryland is still in that stage of the season where they look competent before crumbling in the later autumn months. This one should be fun.

 

Feature Image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)

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