- Which coaches could be in trouble with some early losses? Will the Buckeyes run the table? Is Jarrett Stidham tough enough to survive the SEC? The Week 1 mailbag is open.
Week 1 has arrived, and hypotheticals and predictions are about to give way to real, live football games. This week’s mailbag hits on the coaches feeling the heat before their season opener even kicks off, this weekend’s most entertaining matchups people aren’t talking about and the new SEC quarterback that received more ink than any other this offseason. On to your questions...
From John: What percentage of coaches do you think truly have no life outside football versus those who want us to think they have no life outside football?
John’s question came after seeing this tweet from Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who apparently is not as big a Game of Thrones fan as your old pal #DearAndy.
Remember, John isn’t asking which coaches have no lives outside of football. He’s asking us which coaches put on an act to make us think they have no lives outside of football. The answer to that one is zero. Most people who reach the level of Power 5 head coach are workaholics who think about little else than the task at hand. They don’t need to act uninterested in the wider world. They are. That’s why we find coaches like Washington State’s Mike Leach and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema so interesting. They are legitimately interested in things that don’t involve third-and-two. Leach wrote a book about Geronimo and is currently spending any spare time fighting the use of sovereign immunity by the state of Texas to get out of lawsuits over otherwise enforceable contracts. (Leach still wants money he believes Texas Tech owes him from the 2009 season.) Bielema likes to cook, and he likes to tweet photos of his creations.
But even the seemingly obsessed coaches do have some outside interests. Whittingham, for example, is a workout fanatic. Had that person on Twitter asked about kettlebells instead of zombie dragons, Whittingham probably would have given a knowledgable, nuanced answer. Nick Saban, meanwhile, loves watching The Weather Channel. O.K., so it’s to know what the conditions will be for practice, but he’s clearly paying attention. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have known so much about the recent solar eclipse while explaining how he didn’t care about the recent solar eclipse.
From @CFBHub: Which coach has the hottest seat going into the season? [Answer linked here, and in the video atop this story.]
From @VivWashington: Will the Buckeyes lose in the regular season?
Probably. It’s quite difficult to run through a regular season undefeated. Alabama was the only team to do it last year. Clemson was the only team to do it in 2015. Florida State did it in ’13 and ’14, but the Seminoles had a No. 1 overall draft pick playing quarterback and probably the best tailback in the program’s history coming in as a freshman reinforcement in ’14. Ohio State did it in ’12 while facing a postseason ban, but that was in a far different Big Ten than the one the Buckeyes must now traverse.
While Ohio State certainly has the talent to go through the regular season undefeated, any such season requires some luck if the schedule isn’t pillowy soft. And the Buckeyes’ schedule is anything but. They get Oklahoma in Week 2. Later in the season, they face Penn State at home and then head to Iowa the following week. Then they face Michigan State in Columbus, and we all know what happened the last time the Spartans played in the Horseshoe. And of course, there’s the trip to Michigan to end the season. Last year showed how much Jim Harbaugh had narrowed the gap. (A few inches, for those of us who believe the officials were correct in awarding J.T. Barrett that first down.)
If Ohio State gets through all of that undefeated and then wins the Big Ten title game, you’re probably looking at an easy choice for the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff. But if last year taught us anything, it’s that a good team in a good league can still trip up along the way and make the playoff.
From Brian: Higher NFL draft pick: Nick Fitzgerald or Jarrett Stidham?
If Mississippi State’s Fitzgerald develops as a passer, it’s going to be him. NFL general managers will look at his size (6' 5", 235) and arm strength and drool. Add receiver speed and a mastery of the same offense that produced Dak Prescott into the equation, and some team will jump on him early. But Fitzgerald, who ran the option in high school, has to get better as a thrower to make that happen. He only completed 54.3% of his passes last season. That number needs to get over 60.
Stidham is an intriguing case. If he lives up to all the hype, he could be a one-and-done at Auburn. His size (6' 3", 214) is just fine for NFL types, and if Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and coordinator Chip Lindsey have designed the offense we think they have, then Stidham should get ample opportunity to show that he can make every throw.
Don’t expect Stidham to play the way Cam Newton or Nick Marshall did for Malzahn. Think a stronger-armed version of 2009 quarterback Chris Todd. Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson will do most of the work in the run game, but that doesn’t mean the Tigers won’t be able to freeze defenders with play action. Just because the quarterback is less likely to keep the ball on the read option doesn’t mean the play is easy to stop. If he’s got a great arm and he has a good back running behind a bulldozing offensive line, those two options are enough of a threat to keep a defense on its heels. This puts more pressure on Auburn’s backs and line, but if it works, it should keep Stidham upright, healthy and slinging to an athletic group of receivers that hasn’t really had a chance to show what it can do.
And if he revives a passing game that has been dormant for years, Stidham will rise on draft boards.