Luicci's College Football Plus: Week 1

Tom Luicci

Five questions

Q. Is this how it will be all season, with almost as much news made off the field because of COVID-19 as there is during actual games?

Get used to it. Virginia-Virginia Tech, scheduled for Sept. 19, has been postponed. BYU-Army, originally set for the same day, has also been postponed. Louisiana Tech at Baylor has been postponed, as has SMU-TCU. Memphis’ game with Houston on Sept. 18 has been postponed after 20 people associated with the Tigers’ football program tested positive and 20 more were in quarantine – reportedly tracing to players on a party bus following Memphis’ win over Arkansas State in its opener. Shocking that college students would party after being cooped up for six months.

Never saw that coming.

Pittsburgh held out seven players from its opener due to COVID-19 protocols, Georgia Southern and Campbell held out a combined 33 players from their game, Kansas did not dress 40 players for “undisclosed reasons,” and Missouri State almost pulled out of its opener at Oklahoma over concerns about a COVID-19 spread on the Sooners’ campus.

It’s the new normal.

Q. How does the Big 12 recover from a disastrous opening weekend?

After contender-turned-pretender Iowa State lost 31-14 at home to Louisiana – which beat a Top 25 team on the road for the first time in 27 tries – the Big 12 is already down to Oklahoma and Texas with perhaps Oklahoma State and West Virginia as disruptive factors in the conference race.

The jury is still out on Baylor.

But if the first weekend is any indication, the rest of the league looks like fodder for Oklahoma and Texas. Kansas State lost at home to Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina – in its third year as an FBS program – beat Kansas and Texas Tech needed to stop a late two-point conversion to beat Houston Baptist.

Q. Has the Sun Belt Conference ever had a better weekend in football than this past one?

With more attention than ever focused on Group of Five conferences as the Big Ten – for now – and Pac-12 sit on the sidelines, the little guys are getting their shot. The “Fun” Belt took full advantage on Saturday.

Louisiana won at Iowa State. Arkansas State won at Kansas State. Coastal Carolina won at Kansas. And South Alabama squandered a 24-7 third quarter lead in a tough 27-24 loss to Tulane. Appalachian State, which went 13-1 and cracked the Top 25 a year ago, opened with a tougher-than-expected win over Charlotte, perhaps an indication that the rest of the league has caught up with the Mountaineers this year.

Q. Is it truly a “competitive disadvantage” for Oklahoma to report COVID-19 cases, as head coach Lincoln Riley has claimed in deciding to treat that information as he would injuries?

Here’s what he said on the subject:

“As far as active cases, I think we’re to the point now where we’re playing games, and obviously an active case or contract trace is going to have game repercussions. And so, you know, just like we would with an injury, we’ve made the decision not to broadcast that.”

“I know we’ve been probably the most transparent school in the country up until (now) but you don’t want to give your team a competitive disadvantage so we’re not going to do that.”

Not a big deal in the middle of a pandemic – especially since the information provided could simply be numbers, not names.

But, hey, you can’t blame Riley. He needs all the competitive advantages he can get after having two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks and a runner-up for the award the past three years and going 0-3 in the College Football Playoff.

Q. Is it really time to say good-bye to Austin Peay for the season? Already?

With the Ohio Valley Conference canceling football this year, Austin Peay opted to play a three-game non-conference schedule. The last of those three games is Saturday at Cincinnati. So on Sept. 19 the Governors’ season is officially over.

Welcome to 2020.

On the rise

Louisiana (1-0)

After being 0-26 on the road against Top 25 teams in its history, the Sun Belt school dominated nationally-ranked Iowa State on the road in perhaps the biggest shocker of the weekend.

Georgia Tech (1-0)

Picked to finish last in the 15-team ACC, the Yellow Jackets overcame a 10-point deficit to win at Florida State, doing so with a true freshman at quarterback (Jeff Simms). It’s the first time since 1996 that Tech has won an ACC road game to open the season.

Arkansas State (1-1)

The Red Wolves rebounded from their opening-game loss at Memphis by winning at Kansas State – just the program’s second victory ever over a Power 5 opponent (2008 against Texas A&M was the other). Arkansas State completely throttled the Wildcats’ running game.

On the decline

Florida State (0-1)

Imagine still trying to win consistently with James Blackman at quarterback. Maybe that explains why the Seminoles have gone 18-21 since 2017.

Kansas (0-1)

Maybe it won’t be that easy for Les Miles to improve off that three-win season a year ago after all. Jayhawks lost handily at home to a Coastal Carolina team in its third year at the FBS level.

Syracuse (0-1)

Dino Baber’s team doesn’t look any better than last year’s 5-7 squad, which means the Orange may be staring at a sixth losing season in the past seven years.

Who’s hot

Bailey Zappe, QB, Houston Baptist

The senior couldn’t do quite enough to pull off an upset against Texas Tech but he did pass for 567 yards and four touchdowns in the 35-33 loss. He passed for 480 yards and three scores the previous week against North Texas.

West Virginia running backs

Okay, so the opponent was Eastern Kentucky. But after failing to have a 100-yard rusher all of last year, while averaging 73 rushing yards per game, the Mountaineers saw Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield each go for 123 yards and two TDs in a 56-10 rout.

Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas

Still taking a wait-and-see approach with Ehlinger and the opponent was UTEP, but he was stellar: 25-of-33 for 425 yards and five TD passes.

Who’s not

Brock Purdy, QB, Iowa State

So much for possibly being the Big 12’s best QB. The junior was a listless 16-of-35 for 145 yards with an interception and no TD passes in the loss to Louisiana. ISU had its lowest passing yardage total in two years.

Alan Orona, PK, Texas State

He’s a redshirt freshman, so consider this a learning experience: He missed the potential game-winning extra point with 1:16 left in regulation and then misfired on a 20-yard field goal in the second overtime of a 51-48 loss to Texas-San Antonio,

Tommy DeVito, QB, Syracuse

Just an ugly performance by the junior against North Carolina: 13-of-31 for 112 yards, no TD passes, and 30 rushing yards on 16 carries. He was also sacked seven times in the 31-7 loss.

Playing it forward

The top games of the coming week (all times Eastern)

UCF at Georgia Tech, 3:30 p.m., ABC-TV

This suddenly shapes up as a much more difficult opener for the Knights, who have designs on making a splash nationally again this year. Yellow Jackets and true freshman QB Jeff Simms have to feel emboldened after their 16-13 upset at Florida State last week.

Miami at Louisville, 7:30 p.m., ABC-TV

Both teams were able to work out the kinks in season-opening wins. A nice QB showdown between the ‘Canes’ D’Eriq King and the Cards’ Micale Cunningham. It’s also an elimination game of sorts as the rest of the ACC battles to see which team will be No. 3 behind Clemson and Notre Dame.

Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014. 

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