New on Sports Illustrated: Forde-Yard Dash: It's Time for ACC, Big 12 to Kick Off a Fat-Free Fall

September 08, 2020 at 08:55AM

Power 5 play begins this week with fewer non-conference blowouts on the slate than usual.

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (remedial clock management instruction available at Middle Tennessee):

FIRST QUARTER: BRING ON THE BIG BOYS

Week One was a weak one. No splashy intersectional games in JerryWorld, Atlanta, Orlando or a single Power 5 campus. We did get a

touching display of emotion from Kirk Herbstreit, a 99-yard Army drive and UTEP holding an opponent to fewer than 15 points for the first time in four seasons. That’s about it.

Just a single team from the preseason SI Still Standing 16 has played thus far, and that was Memphis. Things pick up this week, with most of the ACC and Big 12 swinging into action.

A quick look at the openers from our Still Standing 16, as we get into a fat-free fall with many fewer non-conference blowouts on the slate:

Top-ranked Clemson (1) at Wake Forest, 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Most challenging Clemson opener since: Auburn in 2016. Still shouldn’t be overly challenging. The Tigers have won 22 straight ACC games, 11 straight against Wake Forest and five straight season openers.

What to watch for from Clemson: How good are the Clemson freshmen defensive linemen? Top recruits Bryan Bresee and Myles Murphy, centerpieces in the Tigers’ No. 1-rated freshman class, have drawn early raves from head coach Dabo Swinney and coordinator Brent Venables.

What to watch for from Wake: Can the Demon Deacons score a touchdown on the Tigers for the first time since 2017? They’ve lost the last two games by a combined 115–6.

Fourth-ranked Oklahoma (2) hosts Missouri State, 7 p.m. Saturday.

Most challenging Oklahoma opener since: Houston last year. This marks the Sooners’ first game against an FCS opponent since 2012. It will not be challenging.

What to watch for from Oklahoma: A new year, another new quarterback. This time it’s the evocatively named Spencer Rattler, a five-star slinger inheriting the position from Jalen Hurts, who got it from Kyler Murray, who got it from Baker Mayfield. Quite the glamour spot under Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma QB.

What to watch for from Missouri State: Bobby Petrino, last seen stealing a paycheck from Louisville in 2018, makes his debut as coach of the Bears.

Sixth-ranked Notre Dame (3) hosts Duke, 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Most challenging Notre Dame opener since: last year at Louisville. In the previous five seasons the Fighting Irish have opened up with Texas twice, Michigan once and the Cardinals in 2019.

What to watch for from Notre Dame: How does that ACC logo look on the field at Notre Dame Stadium, where the home team is (temporarily) ending 133 years of independence? And how does senior quarterback Ian Book look after a strong finish to a fitful 2019 season?

What to watch for from Duke: How does Chase Brice do in his Blue Devils debut? The Clemson graduate transfer won the job and should immediately improve Duke’s quarterback play from what it was in 2019.

Eleventh-ranked Texas (4) hosts UTEP, 8 p.m. Saturday.

Most challenging Texas opener since: last year against Louisiana Tech. This is actually the Longhorns’ least-challenging opener since New Mexico State in 2013.

What to watch for from Texas: What changes to new coordinators Mike Yurcich (offensive) and Chris Ash (defensive) bring to the table? Ash’s work is particularly urgent: Last season the Longhorns allowed the most passing yards per game (293) and highest completion percentage (63.4) in school history.

What to watch for from UTEP: Can the Miners, who have won three of their last 37 games, minimize injuries while picking up a valuable guarantee check?

Fourteenth-ranked North Carolina (5) hosts Syracuse, noon Saturday.

Most challenging North Carolina opener since: last year against South Carolina. This will be the Tar Heels’ sixth straight season opening up against a fellow Power 5 opponent. Last season was the first time in that stretch that the Heels won.

What to watch for from North Carolina: How is the secondary? Three Heels defensive backs opted out on the season, leaving some depth issues that could be exposed by a coach (Dino Babers) who doesn’t mind slinging the ball around.

What to watch for from Syracuse: Does the coordinator shakeup get the Orange back on track? After a 10–3 record in 2018, Syracuse was one of the biggest busts of ’19. The Orange went 5–6, with some backsliding defensive no-shows reminiscent of the first two years of Babers’s tenure. There wasn’t much toughness against the run last season.

Fifteenth-ranked Florida State (6) hosts Georgia Tech, 3:30 Saturday.

Most challenging Florida State opener since: Last year against Boise State. The Seminoles have actually lost three openers in a row.

What to watch for from Florida State: New regime, new competence? Mike Norvell takes over what was one of the most dysfunctional teams in America. The Seminoles were the most-penalized team in the ACC the past two seasons, drawing 229 flags. They committed the second-most turnovers in the league (47). They had the most negative yardage in the league (losses totaling 894 yards). Simply minimizing offensive debacles could go a long way toward winning more games.

What to watch for from Georgia Tech: Does the radical philosophy shift away from Paul Johnson’s ground-bound offense begin to take flight in year two under Geoff Collins? In year one, the Yellow Jackets were the only Power 5 team in the nation not to score 30 points once all season. That needs to change.

Sixteenth-ranked Appalachian State (7) hosts Charlotte, noon Saturday.

Most challenging App State opener since: at Penn State, 2018.

What to watch for from App State: How much of the program’s winning DNA can be retained with a third different head coach in three seasons? Probably a fair amount, since Clark was on staff with both Scott Satterfield (now at Louisville) and Eli Drinkwitz (now at Missouri). But the 49ers are not a pushover opponent.

What to watch for from Charlotte: Can the Niners take another step forward in their second year under Will Healy? They made their first-ever bowl game last season, leading to a shirtless Healy memorably body surfing on his players in the locker room after the bid was secured. The offense should continue to click with returning talent at quarterback and wide receiver plus the arrival of graduate transfer running back Tre Harbison from Northern Illinois.

FOUR FOR THE PLAYOFF

Some Dash CFP housekeeping rules: Nobody is up for playoff consideration until they have played a game—a game against an FBS opponent. For now, that eliminates the preseason playoff quartet of Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and Georgia (haven’t played yet), and it eliminates blowout Week One winner Marshall (which beat FCS Eastern Kentucky).

So here’s the way it stands after a weekend of games that were bereft of competitiveness and drama:

Rose Bowl: Top seed BYU (8) vs. fourth seed SMU (9).

The Cougars were dominant against Navy Monday night, pummeling the Midshipmen at the line of scrimmage. It was a risk picking up a game at the 11th hour against an option team, but BYU manhandled the Navy running game and then ran the ball at will on offense. It was a spectacular season opener, and in a fallow week it moves the Cougars to the top of the Dash playoff rankings, setting up a Mormons vs. Methodists clash in Pasadena. Next for BYU: Sept. 19 at Army, as the Cougars’ patchwork eight-game schedule completes the service academy segment.

The Mustangs were good, not great, in defeating Texas State. Quarterback Shane Buechele threw for 367 yards, finding plenty of capable receivers after losing top target James Proche to the NFL. SMU will have to tighten some things up to compete for an American Athletic Conference title. Next for SMU: A Friday rivalry game against TCU has been postponed, so the next scheduled game is Sept. 19 at North Texas.

Sugar Bowl: Second seed Army (10) vs. third seed Memphis (11).

At least one service academy showed up over the weekend. The Cadets gave a football-starved nation the blocking and tackling it hungered for in a 42–0 emasculation of Middle Tennessee Saturday afternoon. This was trademark Army, attempting four passes and completing two, and still controlling the game from opening kick to final gun. After backsliding from 11–2 in 2018 to 5–8 last year, the Cadets look like they have their mojo back. Next for Army: Louisiana-Monroe in West Point on Saturday.

In the debut of new coach Ryan Silverfield, Memphis handled a pretty good Arkansas State team. The Tigers weren’t hugely explosive, breaking just one play of 30 or more yards, but they efficiently moved the ball all game behind veteran quarterback Brady White. Highlight of the game was a 25-yard run on a fake punt by 270-pound defensive lineman Joseph Dorceus. Next for Memphis: Houston comes to Memphis Friday.

Also considered: South Alabama.

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