4-Down Territory: Opening Weekend from Buckeyes to a Backyard Brawl and Everything In Between
In “Week Zero” there was essentially zero drama in the games played in North America. But across the pond on the old sod of Ireland, Northwestern opened the season with a come from behind win over Nebraska 31-28. Looking ahead to week one, there appears to be plenty of drama in games from Thursday through Monday.
First Down: Thursday Night Lights: West Virginia at (17) Pitt: The Backyard Brawl returns and all eyes for defending ACC Champion Pitt will be on QB Kedon Slovis, a transfer from USC. The offensive line returns intact to give him time to throw and a running game to lean on. On defense, expect the pass rush and secondary to remain strong. For WVU their QB JT Daniel is also a USC transfer (by way of Georgia). The Mountaineers were solid on defense last year but lost most of the back seven……..Penn State at Purdue: This will be an indicator game for both programs. Penn State finished 2021 on 2-6 run, while Purdue finished 5-1 down the stretch. Purdue also had two wins over top-5 opponents. Offensively in 2021 both teams struggled to run the ball, leaned heavily on the pass and gave up too many sacks. The 2022 question marks for both teams start up front. When given time both QBs, Penn State’s Sean Clifford and Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell, were effective. On defense both teams also struggled to stop the run game. This game could come down to which team's offense can find their run game.
Second Down: Appetizers: Friday: Western Michigan at (15) Michigan State: Don’t sleep on Western Michigan. This is a team that upset Pitt last year……Illinois at Indiana: Illinois cranked up the running game against Wyoming last Saturday. If they can continue that, this trip should be a good one for them….Saturday: Colorado State at (8) Michigan: The great QB experiment begins with Cade McNamara starting in week one. Having two good QBs is not a problem. The real intrigue will be on the defensive side of the ball. How will the Wolverines replace not one but two dynamic pass rushers that went to the NFL?......Rutgers at Boston College: This is an important game for Rutgers if they hope to return to a bowl game again this year. Getting a 3-0 non-conference mark will be critical……(23) Cincinnati at (19) Arkansas: Cincinnati is 44-7 the past 4 years with a 5-3 against Power-5 teams (all 3 losses to top 10 teams). But key players are gone from last year (notably at quarterback and both CBs). Arkansas loves to run the ball. They racked up over 350 yards rushing in their bowl win. Their leading rusher was QB KJ Jefferson--a threat running and passing.
Third Down: Big Openers: (11) Oregon vs (3) Georgia (Atlanta): This is the first of two big games for the Pac 12. Auburn transfer QB Bo Nix walks into a great situation with an Oregon offensive line that powered a balanced attack last year. Georgia’s defense lost a ton of talent and their defensive coordinator Dan Lanning (now Oregon’s Head Coach). The Ducks’ defense returns most of their front seven. They will need to play their best to stop a Bulldog offense that loves to run the ball. But can they afford to load up against the run against QB Stetson Bennett who quietly amassed good numbers?.....(7) Utah at Florida: Every year college football experts seem to pick one Pac 12 team as a threat to make the college football playoff. This year Utah is that team. If Utah is for real, they will need to win in the Swamp…….Sunday: Florida State at LSU: The Brian Kelly era begins in LSU with a good test against a name-brand opponent from the ACC. Hard to believe that we open the year without either team being ranked in the Top 25……..Monday: (4) Clemson at Georgia Tech: The Tigers are ACC favorites, but this is a deeper ACC than it has been in the past. Five ACC teams are ranked to start the season (#4 Clemson, #13 NC State, #16 Miami, #17 Pitt and #22 Wake Forest). Last year Clemson stumbled to a 4-3 start before quietly winning 6 straight. While this game is being played in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Georgia Tech may want to practice with crowd noise this week. One suspects there will be a massive amount of Orange-clad fans in the stands.
Fourth Down: The Top Two: Utah State at (1) Alabama: Two of the Top 5 Heisman vote-getters return for Alabama. The Tide appears to be focused, angry and on a mission after losing the National Title game to Georgia last year. Utah State had a good opening win vs UConn last weekend, but this is a slight step up in opponent quality.…….(5) Notre Dame at (2) Ohio State: The Buckeyes return an explosive pass game. While Jaxon Smith-Njigba had a monster Rose Bowl, Marvin Harrison had a breakout day when veteran WRs opted out of that game. To reclaim the Big Ten Title, OSU needs to improve on defense, specifically at LB. A new defensive coordinator is a big part of the story. For Notre Dame’s new coach Marcus Freeman this is a return to his alma mater. His first game was a loss to Oklahoma State in the bowl game last year, a game that extended Notre Dame’s futility streak in major bowl games to 0-10 dating back to January 1, 1994. The Irish defense figures to be a strong suit with 8 starters back. They will need that experience to face this big test. A new QB for the Irish will be surrounded by an experienced offense and that should help in what will be a very hostile environment.
Bizarre Matchup of the Week: Maine at New Mexico: The early-season scheduling makes for some odd FBS/FCS game pairings. It’s a long way from Orono, ME to Albuquerque, NM (2100 miles). UNM is 10-23 the past 4 years with 6 of those wins coming against FCS teams and New Mexico State. Maine has not played an FBS team since traveling to Western Kentucky in 2018, a game they won 31-28.