Every Friday, NCAA.com will run ‘Third and Long,’ a look at three different questions facing the college football world. This week, our three respondents are Eric Vander Voort, Joe Boozell and Sam Richmond.
1. Early in the season is primetime for overreactions. Is there a fan base that can afford to settle down, and maybe that Week 1 loss isn’t so bad, after all?
EV: As Ohio State showed last year, even an early bad loss doesn’t necessarily take you out of playoff contention, so a “good’ loss won’t, either. I don’t think Arizona State has much to worry about with its Week 1 loss to then-unranked Texas A&M. I have a feeling that loss will look a lot better in November than it did. The Sun Devils looked more unprepared for the Aggies than outmatched by them, and that’s easier to fix. With plenty of chances in the Pac-12 South to put some impressive wins on the board, Arizona State shouldn’t be counting anything out yet.
JB: I’ll go with the Michigan. The Wolverines have a new coach, a rabid fan base and (by my estimation) inflated expectations for 2015. Sure, it would have been nice to steal one in Salt Lake City. But Utah is one of the most underrated teams in the country, and outside of the turnovers on offense, Michigan didn't look all that bad.
Heck, the Utes beat USC and UCLA a year ago. Most projected the Wolverines to win seven or eight games this season, and judging by how the rest of the Big Ten looked in Week 1, that’s still very attainable.
SR: Alabama bullied them in their season-opener, but there’s no reason for Wisconsin to panic at this point. Alabama is one of the best teams in the nation, and there’s simply no shame in falling short to them. Plus, the Badgers’ schedule eases up in the coming weeks, setting up a likely winning streak. Wisconsin’s next four games will come at home, and they don’t play a currently-ranked team the rest of the season. The Badgers’ running game and defense struggled against Alabama, but they have too great of a track record in those areas to not believe they’ll turn it around moving forward.2. On the other side, which team’s concern is totally warranted? Who needs to turn it around this week, or this season could be in big trouble?
JB: Sorry, Texas fans. You might want to keep scrolling.
One could argue that the Longhorns' current situation isn't any more dire than Michigan's. After all, Notre Dame is projected to be better than Utah, and Texas was never expected to beat the Irish.
But that’s where the similarities end. The Horns got pummeled 38-3 and already stripped Shawn Watson of play-calling duties. In their last three games (dating back to 2014), Texas has scored 20 points. 20. Yikes. They all count the same in the win-loss record, but the Longhorns’ performance in South Bend doesn’t inspire much confidence for the rest of the year.
SR: Penn State fell to Temple for the first time since 1941 on Saturday and did so in embarrassing fashion. After jumping out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, the Nittany Lions allowed 27 unanswered points to finish the game. The Penn State offense fell completely flat, thanks in large part to some horrible offensive line play (they allowed 10 sacks). This wasn’t some fluke upset; the Owls manhandled the Nittany Lions last Saturday.
This week Penn State will take on Buffalo, an opponent they should have little trouble taking down. But beating a vastly inferior opponent isn’t enough at this point; Penn State needs to correct what went wrong against Temple and put together an all-around good game, otherwise it’s hard to project much success for them the rest of the way.
EV: Texas is the obvious one, so I’ll talk about Penn State -- although Sam stole my thunder there. This year should have been a step in the right direction for the Nittany Lions -- second year under James Franklin, returing Christian Hackenberg returning at quarterback -- but if Week 1 is any indication, things could be heading in the opposite direction quickly in Happy Valley. Maybe Temple is better than we gave it credit for, but any loss to an in-state rival for the first time in 74 years isn’t going to reflect well. In terms of being bowl eligible, Penn State is already digging itself a hole that may be too deep to climb out of.
We know Oregon-Michigan State is the marquee game. So, excluding Spartan Stadium, what is the one place you would want to be this weekend?
SR: Tennessee-Oklahoma on Saturday night is absolutely one of the top games in Week 2. This early in the year, it’s hard to get much better than two historic programs with high expectations facing off. This game should be a litmus test for both teams, a chance to prove to the world just how they good are. Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield and Volunteers quarterback Joshua Dobbs both looked good in Week 1, but how will they fare under the bright lights against a ranked opponent? I, for one, can’t wait to see.
JB: LSU vs. Mississippi State Saturday night in Starkville. I mean, every SEC West team is ranked in the AP Top 25, so this has to be the answer by default, right?
Pardon the sarcasm, but really, this should be a great game. The Bulldogs knocked off the Tigers last year in Death Valley by a score of 34-29, and Leonard Fournette should have more of a prominent role this time around for LSU. Dak will continue to do Dak things, and if Brandon Harris can give LSU stability at the quarterback spot to rival Prescott, the Tigers could enjoy or a more fruitful outcome than last season.
EV: I’d be heading out for the Cy-Hawk game. It doesn’t matter how good these teams are, this rivalry attracts close games -- each of the past four have been decided by one possession. Iowa State won on a last-minute field goal in 2014, but then went on to go 2-10. Both teams got started with convincing wins against FCS squads, and while Illinois State and UNI are at the top of the FCS, this will be the first true test for both to see if either could make some noise in conference play.