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Forde-Yard Dash: Predicting the Backlash for Opening Week Losers

Breaking down possible reactions from teams and fanbases based on this week's games, starting with Clemson and Georgia.
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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where Connecticut took a whole year off and still looked like Connecticut:

MORE DASH: Coaching Tests Coordinator Changes | Herbstreit

THIRD QUARTER: TOP OVERREACTION GAMES OF THE WEEK

As mentioned in the Dash First Quarter, this is arguably the best opening week we’ve ever seen in the sport. There are big games everywhere, which means there will be commensurate overreactions as well. The Dash looks at the games and predicts the potential backlash for the losers:

Clemson vs. Georgia (21). When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Where: Charlotte. Line: Clemson by three. How big is it: With the No. 3 and No. 5 teams in the AP poll, this is the highest-ranked opener since No. 1 Alabama beat No. 3 Florida State in 2017. That game turned out to be a bit of a dud, and the Seminoles’ season was doomed after a late injury to quarterback Deondre Francois. Let’s hope for better this time.

The overreaction if Clemson wins: Kirby Smart still can’t win the big one. He’s just a recruiter who is slightly better than Mark Richt but will never be Vince Dooley.

The overreaction if Georgia wins: Clemson’s run is done. Opponents have figured out the defensive signal stealing and it’s over.

Reality: Barring a 40–0 result, the loser of this game sustains no irreversible damage. The winner can start dreaming College Football Playoff dreams.

Stat: Dabo Swinney is 11–1 in season openers, with his only loss to Georgia. Smart is 5–0.

Matchup: How does Clemson’s good-not-great offensive line fare against a Georgia front seven that features half a dozen NFL prospects?

Dash pick: Georgia 24, Clemson 21.

Alabama vs. Miami (22). When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET. Where: Atlanta. Line: Alabama by 18 1/2. How big is it: The biggest brand in the sport vs. the program persistently trying to re-establish its brand. With both teams ranked in the Top 15, it’s big.

The overreaction if Alabama wins: The U is through and will never matter again.

The overreaction if Miami wins: The U is back! Also: the world as we know it has come to an end. (The latter might not be an overreaction.)

Reality: The Crimson Tide have absolutely dominated these “neutral” field openers under Saban, but they bring an inexperienced offense up against a team that has a wealth of experience. It would be a shock if Bama loses and an incredible boost to Manny Diaz and his program, but nobody’s season loses hope or meaning with a defeat here.

Stat: Not only is Saban 14–0 in openers at Alabama, every victory has been by double digits.

Matchup: Alabama quarterback Bryce Young has 31 career college rushes and passes. Sixth-year Miami quarterback D’Eriq King has 1,388 career college rushes, passes, receptions and kick returns.

Dash pick: Alabama 27, Miami 20.

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Penn State at Wisconsin (23). When: Saturday at noon ET. Where: Madison. Line: Wisconsin by 4 1/2. How big is it: Both teams are ranked in the Top 20, with the winner getting a quality win and a big boost after an underwhelming 2020 season.

The overreaction if Penn State wins: Wisconsin has lost its identity and will never again be good enough to beat the best of the Big Ten East. Paul Chryst needs to shake some things up, including ditching the sideline schlep sweatshirt.

The overreaction if Wisconsin wins: Nittany Lions fans default to the James Franklin Is Overrated and Overpaid position.

Reality: Both programs have reason to believe they can be second-best in the Big Ten, at least. A loss here doesn’t affect divisional destiny or the chance to get to Indianapolis to play for the league title.

Stat: The Badgers have lost 12 consecutive times to the East Division axis of Ohio State (eight straight) and Penn State (four straight).

Matchup: Wisconsin’s perpetually tough run defense against Penn State back Noah Cain, returning from a season-ending injury suffered in the first game of 2020. Establishing a running game and not asking Sean Clifford to drop back 35 times seems like a prudent goal for Penn State (though Clifford does have weapons).

Dash pick: Wisconsin 21, Penn State 16.

Notre Dame at Florida State (24). When: Sunday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Where: Tallahassee. Line: Notre Dame by 7 1/2. How big is it: Potentially immense for the Seminoles’ credibility and certainly important for the Fighting Irish, who revert to independent status and don’t have a conference championship game to boost their playoff standing.

The overreaction if Notre Dame wins: Florida State football will never matter again, and it’s time to resume the never-ending examination of the coroner’s report over the program’s cause of death.

The overreaction if Florida State wins: Florida State football matters again. Brian Kelly needs better coordinators. Notre Dame needs to join the ACC.

Reality: The last time the Seminoles beat a Top Ten team was last season, over North Carolina, and they followed that with three straight blowout losses—so while a victory would be great, it would have to be accompanied by some follow-up. An Irish victory would squelch some concerns that this will be a down year for the Golden Domers.

Stat: Florida State has lost four straight season openers, the last three as a favorite. Notre Dame has won a true road game in the state of Florida since 2002, in Tallahassee.

Matchup: The Seminoles are keeping their starting quarterback a guessing game, using the old “or” between McKenzie Milton and Jordan Travis on the depth chart. Whoever starts, he has to identify stud Irish safety Kyle Hamilton on every play, and he could be all over the field.

Dash pick: Notre Dame 26, Florida State 24.

LSU at UCLA (25). When: Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET. Where: Pasadena. Line: LSU by 3 1/2. How big is it: Probably the biggest game of Chip Kelly’s tenure at UCLA, and not a small one for Ed Orgeron as he tries to put 2020 in the rearview mirror.

The overreaction if LSU wins: Kelly is all but done in Westwood. The game has passed him by. UCLA will continue to flail in semi-irrelevance.

The overreaction if UCLA wins: Orgeron is the biggest one-season wonder since Gene Chizik and his days at LSU are numbered.

Reality: Both overreaction scenarios could be pretty realistic, actually. But the fact is, LSU has a legitimate hardship excuse going into this game after being displaced by Hurricane Ida and with many of its players (and coaches) worried about family and friends at home. UCLA could still be good enough to compete for the Pac-12 South title even if it can’t beat the Tigers.

Stat: LSU has a 1-0 all-time record in the state of California, defeating USC in September 1984.

Matchup: If the December 2020 Kayshon Boutte matches up against the December 2020 UCLA pass defense, we could see some Jerry Rice stuff. The LSU freshman receiver finished last year with 27 catches for 527 yards and five touchdowns in his final three games, caped by a 308-yard carnival against Mississippi. The Bruins, meanwhile, gave up 999 passing yards and nine TDs in their final three games of ’20.

Dash pick: UCLA 35, LSU 31.

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Indiana at Iowa (26). When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET. Where: Iowa City. Line: Iowa by 3 1/2. How big is it: Every bit the size of Penn State-Wisconsin, with two ranked teams going at it and trying to establish themselves as Big Ten contenders and nationally relevant.

The overreaction if Indiana wins: Kirk Ferentz is overdue to hang it up, he will never get the Hawkeyes back to winning the Big Ten.

The overreaction if Iowa wins: The Hoosiers had two-season sizzle that is extinguished, and they will promptly return to mediocrity. Tom Allen’s unleashed sideline Labrador retriever act is no longer cute.

Reality: Winner feels great, loser isn’t in bad position. As with the Nittany Lions and Badgers, both would still control their own division destiny.

Stat: Last year was the first time since 2011 that Iowa finished ahead of Indiana in the Big Ten in total offense per game.

Matchup: The Hawkeyes have won 15 straight games in which they’ve run the ball 40 or more times. Can All-America center Tyler Linderbaum and his teammates control the interior and allow Tyler Goodson to pound the rock and keep Indiana’s big-play passing game off the field?

Dash pick: Indiana 28, Iowa 27.

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Ohio State at Minnesota (27). When: Thursday at 8 p.m. ET. Where: Minneapolis. Line: Ohio State by 14. How big is it: For the Buckeyes and their national championship hopes, all games are big games—although a loss here wouldn’t necessarily end anything. For the Gophers, it would be their biggest victory in eons.

The overreaction if Ohio State wins: P.J. Fleck’s sloganeering is over, back to life in the Midwest middle class. And the Buckeyes will win the national title with ease.

The overreaction if Minnesota wins: P.J. Fleck for president. The Urban Meyer Effect on the program has run its course and Ryan Day is exposed as an unworthy successor.

Reality: The Buckeyes absolutely should win, but there are tougher challenges ahead. If the Gophers hang around, it will be a good sign.

Stat: Ohio State hasn’t lost a Big Ten opener since 2011, also known as The Fickell Year.

Matchup: Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim is the nation’s leading returning rusher, and he’s operating behind a full line of returning starters. They’ll try to find creases in a Buckeyes front seven that is talented (as always) but replacing its entire starting linebacker corps and a couple of quality linemen. If the Gophers can control the ball and the clock, maybe they keep it close.

Dash pick: Ohio State 37, Minnesota 24.

Louisiana at Texas (28). When: Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET. Where: Austin. Line: Texas by eight. How big is it: Kinda massive, at least in terms of prestige and ego—both of which matter a great deal to the folks in burnt orange.

The overreaction if Louisiana wins: The Longhorns are the laughingstock of America, losing their first game since power-playing their way into future SEC membership to a Sun Belt school. Put Sark on an ark out of Austin. Bring back Herman. Bring back Mack. Do something, do anything, blame the Big 12 office. Billy Napier rockets to the top of the short lists at Nebraska, Michigan, USC and the Denver Broncos.

The overreaction if Texas wins: Sark is the next great one and the Longhorns are destined to win a national title in four years or less.

Reality: A Texas loss would, in all candor, be an absolute embarrassment. Even if the Ragin’ Cajuns are a quality opponent. A Texas win is a nice start for Sark.

Stat: Louisiana was 6–1 in games decided by one score last season, on its way to 10–1 overall. Texas was 12–13 in one-score games under Tom Herman.

Matchup: Texas sophomore running back Bijan Robinson against a Louisiana defense that led the Sun Belt in fewest yards allowed per play (4.92) but could be gouged a bit on the ground. Expect Robinson to be fully engaged by Sark in the new offense after occasionally being under-utilized under Herman.

Dash pick: Texas 38, Louisiana 31.

Boise State at Central Florida (29). When: Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Where: Orlando. Line: UCF by five. How big is it: Massive by Group of 5 standards, as the jockeying for the inevitable disrespect from the College Football Playoff committee begins.

The overreaction if Boise State wins: Gus Malzahn was a has-been and Auburn knew it and that’s why they paid him a gazillion dollars to go away. Andy Avalos is Chris Petersen incarnate.

The overreaction if UCF wins: Boise’s heyday came and went, now all the Broncos have is blue turf. Gus Malzahn was the greatest steal since Alabama got Nick Saban on the NFL rebound.

Reality: Whoever wins will feel great. Whoever loses shouldn’t feel terrible. Both teams probably are still behind Cincinnati in the G5 pecking order.

Stat: Someone’s significant season-opening winning streak is coming to an end. UCF hasn’t lost its opener since it lost every game in 2015. Boise hasn’t lost its opener since 2014, including wins over Washington and Florida State.

Matchup: Malzahn’s offensive mind against Avalos’ defensive brain, as the two coaches try to put their stamp on new programs. Malzahn definitely inherited the shiniest toy in quarterback Dillon Gabriel, but will he throw it as much as he did under Josh Heupel (more than 800 times in two seasons)? Probably not, if Malzahn can get the running game he always favors.

Dash pick: UCF 31, Boise State 24.

San Jose State at USC (30). When: Saturday at 5 p.m. ET. Where: Los Angeles. Line: USC by 14. How big is it: A must-win for the Trojans and Clay Helton if they want to be taken seriously and keep everyone off the embattled coach’s back. But the Spartans, winners of nine of their last 10, are no longer a pushover.

The overreaction if San Jose State wins: Time for Helton to get the Lane Kiffin tarmac treatment. Since there is no flight home in this instance, just fire him in the Coliseum tunnel. And replace him on the spot with Brent Brennan.

The overreaction if USC wins: The Trojans are back and the Pac-12 has a title contender.

Reality: Though it’s been said before and not turned out true, USC has a chance to be quite good. San Jose could provide a quality win for the Trojans, depending how things turn out down the road. Despite being decent competition, a loss here would be cataclysmic for Helton.

Stat: San Jose quarterback Nick Starkel’s 223 pass efficiency rating in the opener against Southern Utah was the highest single-game rating for a Mountain West quarterback with at least 25 pass attempts in three years, since Brett Rypien against Colorado State, and is the highest at SJSU in eight years.

Matchup: Starkel vs. USC quarterback Kedon Slovis is a nice gunslinger duel, with Slovis having led the Pac-12 in passing yards per game last year at 320.

Dash pick: USC 41, San Jose State 24.

MORE DASH: Coaching Tests | Coordinator Changes | Herbstreit

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