Best- and Worst-Case Scenarios for Teams at the Center of Week 1's Biggest Plot Twists
- After a Week 1 slate filled with surprises, the season could go one of two ways for several high-profile teams. Plus, Punt, Pass & Pork's first look at the playoff picture, a runaway winner for Big Ugly of the Week and an appreciation of challah, the Shar-Pei of bread.
Jimbo Fisher didn’t want to say anything until an official diagnosis came in, but he certainly seemed prepared late Saturday for the possibility of a season without Deondre Francois. Asked if true freshman James Blackman would be the replacement for Francois, Fisher acknowledged that would be the plan if the unthinkable turned out to be true. “As of right now we will, most likely,” Fisher said after a 24–7 loss to Alabama in Atlanta. “That’s where we are, but we’ll evaluate this week and see.”
A year after the Seminoles lost their best defensive player (safety Derwin James) for the season in Week 2, they lost their best offensive player for the season in Week 1. The Tallahassee Democrat reported Saturday night (and SI’s Bruce Feldman confirmed) that Francois tore the patella tendon in his left knee, and he’ll miss the remainder of his redshirt sophomore season. This shouldn’t be that shocking. Football players suffer season-ending injuries relatively frequently. What is shocking is that Florida State lost the one player it absolutely couldn’t afford to lose for the second consecutive season.
The dismissal of De’Andre Johnson in 2015 and Malik Henry’s quick transfer after one tumultuous season have fouled up Florida State’s class balance at quarterback. Beyond Blackman, Fisher’s options at quarterback are redshirt junior J.J. Cosentino, who hasn’t threatened to win the starting job in his time in Tallahassee, and true freshman Bailey Hockman. Florida State center Alec Eberle lavished praise on Blackman on Saturday, and the freshman from Belle Glade, Fla., was one of the surprises of camp, but he faces a steep learning curve. Also, Fisher must be careful with Blackman. After facing Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, the Seminoles face Miami and NC State in consecutive weeks. Both those teams have excellent defensive lines that could hit Blackman a lot. Suddenly, Florida State’s season prognosis looks very different even though the Seminoles have a defense that should keep them in most games. So what is the best-case scenario for the Seminoles, and what is the worst-case scenario? And while we’re at it, what are the best- and worst-case scenarios for other teams that encountered a surprising result in their openers? The reality is probably somewhere in between.
The situation: Francois is out for the year, and true freshman James Blackman seems set to replace him.
Best-case scenario: Blackman is unusually poised for his age and takes advantage of a Florida State receiving corps that offers a lot of options. There’s the explosive (Nyqwan Murray), the huge (Auden Tate) and the tight end (Ryan Izzo). Meanwhile, fellow freshman Cam Akers gains a lot of yards against teams not named Alabama, and Florida State’s defense keeps scores low. The Seminoles drop one ACC game but beat Clemson in November after Blackman gets some seasoning. Then they win the ACC title and become the first two-loss team to make the College Football Playoff as the committee acknowledges the way the Seminoles responded to the Francois injury.
Worst-case scenario: The Seminoles don’t have a quarterback on the roster who is either effective or ready. They still win nine games because of a superior defense, but the offense can’t get them over the hump against their best opponents. The regular-season finale against Florida is like looking into a mirror, and the Seminoles win three pick-sixes to two.
The situation: The Aggies somehow managed to compress the entirety of the past three seasons into one game in a 45–44 loss at UCLA. To add injury to injury, quarterback Nick Starkel watched the collapse while wearing a boot on the sidelines.
Best-case scenario: I’m naturally optimistic, and even I don’t see how Texas A&M—with that schedule—bounces back from this. The magic number for Kevin Sumlin to keep his job is probably 5–3 in the SEC, and that seems unlikely with a defense that remains prone to collapse. He’s already lost at least one Texas A&M regent.
Worst-case scenario: When your best-case scenario sounds that bad, it’s probably best not to imagine anything worse.
The situation: After firing Charlie Strong, hiring Tom Herman and nine months spent trying to change a culture that resulted in three consecutive seven-loss seasons, the Longhorns looked like exactly the same team in a 51–41 loss to Maryland.
Best-case scenario: This was a case of a team making some correctable mistakes in its first game under a new staff. Remember, Chip Kelly’s first game as Oregon’s head coach (a loss at Boise State) was considered an abject disaster. The Ducks won the Pac-10 that year. Herman’s team has talent, but the offensive line needs to generate more push in the run game and the defensive backs have got to cover one-on-one at least every once in a while. If the issues that caused the loss to Maryland can be corrected by something other than recruiting, Texas still may have a successful year. With USC facing Stanford this week, the Trojans could be ripe for an upset when Texas visits on Sept. 16. That kind of win could boost Texas to an eight- or nine-win season. (Let’s not go crazy predicting any Big 12 titles. We saw what we saw Saturday.)
Worst-case scenario: This is a team that simply doesn’t understand how to win, and it never fixes those issues. It goes 6–6 and loses its bowl game, continuing the seven-loss tradition.
The situation: The Gators still don’t appear to have an effective quarterback. To make matters worse, the offensive line—a group that was supposed to have improved this offseason—seems to have regressed.
Best-case scenario: Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks grows more comfortable with more playing time, and his athleticism and his arm help the Gators overcome deficiencies on the line. The returns of top back Jordan Scarlett and top receiver Antonio Callaway from suspension provide more options. The Gators still aren’t national title contenders, but they enter November in the hunt for a third consecutive SEC East title.
Worst-case scenario: The suspensions—which are currently labeled “indefinite”—stretch deeper into the season. The Gators lose to Tennessee, LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia and enter November praying not to get embarrassed by the guy they fired three years ago. (That guy does have a quarterback.)
The situation: Starting quarterback Jacob Eason has a sprained knee. How long that will sideline Eason remains to be seen, but true freshman Jake Fromm came in and led the Bulldogs capably for three quarters of Georgia’s 31–10 win against Appalachian State.
Best-case scenario: Eason gets healthy relatively quickly, and Fromm runs the offense until Eason is ready to return. At that point, Georgia coaches read the locker room and decide which player is best suited to have the starting job. This doesn’t have to become a quarterback controversy if Kirby Smart and coordinator Jim Chaney make an informed, definitive decision. The Bulldogs wind up with two players capable of moving the offense, and they have a team that can compete for the SEC East title.
Worst-case scenario: Eason returns and coaches can’t figure out which quarterback should play, so they play them both. The offense never finds a rhythm, and Georgia is just as frustrating to watch as it was last year.
The situation: The Wolfpack, facing the highest expectations the program has seen in years, statistically dominated South Carolina in Charlotte on Saturday but still lost 35–28 because of a special teams gaffe and critical turnovers.
Best-case scenario: The Wolfpack clean up the mistakes and go on to a great season in the ACC. Two years ago, North Carolina lost to South Carolina in the same stadium when quarterback Marquise Williams threw the same interception to the same defender in the same spot in the end zone in the first and fourth quarters. Williams ended up having a wonderful season, and the Tar Heels won the Coastal Division. NC State faces a tougher road in the loaded Atlantic Division, but there is no reason the Wolfpack can’t bounce back from this. NC State still has an elite defensive line, and the Wolfpack will win most games when quarterback Ryan Finley throws for 415 yards. They just didn’t win this one.
Worst-case scenario: NC State fails to live up to high expectations yet again, and it gets coach Dave Doeren fired.
A Random Ranking
In quite possibly the most random random ranking ever, here are the top five products pitched by Yogurt in the movie Spaceballs.
1. Spaceballs the flamethrower
2. Spaceballs the breakfast cereal
3. Spaceballs the doll
4. Spaceballs the lunchbox
5. Spaceballs the t-shirt
This section likely will fluctuate wildly in the first few weeks and then settle into a more predictable pattern. It just so happens that the four teams I picked to make the playoff in SI’s Preseason Crystal Ball column also were very impressive this week and gave me no reason to place anyone else above them. But with some excellent out-of-conference matchups on deck and more in-conference games starting soon, don’t expect this group to stay intact.
1. Alabama (1–0)
The Crimson Tide defense overwhelmed Florida State’s offense, even though the front seven was supposed to be rebuilding, and Alabama’s special teams made two huge third-quarter plays to break open the game. Alabama’s offense did enough, but it’s possible the Crimson Tide won’t see a defense better than Florida State’s this season.
2. Ohio State (1–0)
The Buckeyes turned on the jets late in a tricky season opener at Indiana. If offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson can keep calling plays that allow quarterback J.T. Barrett to do what he does best (run the read option and distribute short- and intermediate-range passes to receivers in space) and avoid any reliance on the deep ball, not many defenses will be able to handle the Buckeyes. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s pass rush might be more ferocious than we originally thought. Still, the performances of Michigan and Penn State on Saturday showed why the Buckeyes shouldn’t get comfortable as favorites in the Big Ten.
3. Clemson (1–0)
Kelly Bryant looked like a seamless replacement for Deshaun Watson against Kent State, but he’ll get a much better test Saturday when Auburn visits. Auburn’s defense allowed only 78 yards in a 41–7 win against Georgia Southern, so we should have a much better idea of how good Clemson’s offense is this time next week.
4. Oklahoma State (1–0)
That was no cupcake the Cowboys blasted on Thursday. Tulsa won 10 games last year and brought back a decent amount of starters, and Oklahoma State still shredded the Golden Hurricane to the tune of 11.8 yards per pass attempt and 10.2 yards per play in a 59–24 win.
Big Ugly of the Week
Of course this week’s winner is USC long snapper Jake Olson, who took the field for the first time Saturday in the Trojans’ 49–31 win against Western Michigan. Olson was born with an eye cancer called retinoblastoma. He lost one eye at 10 months old, and at age 12 he had surgery to remove the other eye. Olson had befriended then-USC coach Pete Carroll, and the night before his surgery, he watched USC’s practice. Olson remained a part of the USC football family while attending Orange Lutheran High (where he played long snapper), and he joined the Trojans as a walk-on in 2015.
What’s Eating Andy?
If Michigan can get these sweet gas station-style work shirts for its football players, surely Sports Illustrated can buy them for the writers. Heck, I’ve been here almost 10 years and I never even got a fleece or a football phone.
What’s Andy Eating?
We’ve established in this space that I’m not a brunch person. Perhaps this is because I don’t like combining meals—thus skipping one. Perhaps I’m merely jealous of the childless and the empty nesters who can wait until 10:30 to get moving on a weekend morning. But while I may be anti-brunch, I am not opposed to having breakfast for lunch. This works to my advantage in Atlanta, the brunchingest town in America.
Oy!, located along the I-285 perimeter near the Braves’ new stadium, is a restaurant and an acronym. It stands for Overindulgent Yumminess, and the description is accurate. Oy! serves the brunch basics—omelets and sandwiches—but it shines when it goes completely over the top. The pancakes look like Frisbees. They’ll put just about anything in their house mac and cheese or atop their fresh-cut fries. But you’re here for the challah.
Challah is the Shar-Pei of bread. This traditional Jewish egg loaf is knobby, lumpy and so ugly it’s beautiful. It’s got a delightful name that can be made even more delightful if spoken while impersonating Ja Rule. Challah is wonderful on its own, but its combination of thickness and softness makes it quite versatile. Oy! takes challah in a savory direction and in a sweet direction, and both options looked so enticing that I couldn’t choose. So I just ate both.
Fortunately for the waistband of my pants, Oy! offers a “small” version of each dish that would qualify as a full meal anywhere else. Trying to eat regular versions of the challah soufflé and the challah French toast would have rendered me incapable of covering the Alabama–Florida State game Saturday night. They would have put me down for a nap that would have lasted until it was time to leave to cover Tennessee–Georgia Tech on Monday night.
When the thick, steaming hunks of challah arrived, I formulated a plan. I’d eat the soufflé first because it seemed more like a traditional main course. The French toast, with its syrup, caramel sauce and powdered sugar, looked more like dessert. And the French toast was excellent. The challah soaked up the egg wash, syrup and sauce without getting soggy. Few breads could handle this without turning into mush. The challah took in everything and retained its texture. If this was all I’d eaten, I’d have been thrilled.
But the soufflé was even better. The challah provides the foundation for a gooey mix of Swiss cheese and eggs. A lesser bread would burn or get too crispy. The challah stayed soft on the inside and turned the mixture into a beautiful breakfast cake. I would eat this every day if given the opportunity. My cardiologist will be pleased to know I can only get it when I visit Brunchtown, USA.