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College Football Thoughts & Reactions: Weeks 1 & 2

Jonathan Adams Jr., Arkansas State
After an off-season of wondering whether a college football season would happen or not in 2020, we finally have been gifted some football. Sure, things look and sound a lot different than a typical fall Saturday, but as a college football fan, any football is a good thing. The games in Week 1 and Week 2 weren't exactly loaded with marquee matchups, but there was still a lot we can take from the opening weeks. Here are a few thoughts and reactions I had to the first dose of CFB action.

The Sun Belt Has Come to Play
The Sun Belt Conference has long been considered the weakest of the ten conferences in FBS football (excluding Independents), but it might have had the best weekend of any conference playing. The league swept the Big 12 in all three matchups between the two conferences, as Louisiana-Lafayette upset Iowa State, Arkansas State beat Kansas State, and Coastal Carolina took down Kansas. All three victories are even more impressive when you consider the fact they were all on the road, even though fans weren't as much as a factor as they normally would've been, with Kansas State being the only team with some fans in the stands. The fact of the matter is that the Sun Belt is a lot stronger league than most might realize; Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Lafayette have all built some of the Group of Five's strongest programs. I think that it also shows a natural reality of this pandemic season; with such a short and uncommon off-season, we are going to see a lot of rust and poor play, which can help close the talent gap between teams. That will probably result in more upsets than we've ever seen before, and it's hard to complain about something that makes college football so fun and unique.

Florida State Is Still Florida State
Mike Norvell's debut in Tallahassee didn't go as planned, as Florida State was upset at home by Georgia Tech, a team coming off a 3-9 campaign. It certainly was a sloppy game on both sides, and the bad weather in Tallahassee only contributed to that. Give credit to Georgia Tech for finding out a way to close out the game and a lot of credit to true freshman QB Jeff Sims, who weathered two early interceptions to lead the Yellow Jackets to victory. However, the bigger story has to be FSU, who lost their fourth straight season opener for the first time since the mid-1970s. After a stellar opening drive, the offense looked dreadful, with the same old problems showing up once again: bad O-Line and QB play. To be fair to QB James Blackman, he was operating behind blockers that were shelled by GT's front seven, but he still had some head-scratching throws. It seems like only a matter of time until he is benched for good, leading way to dual-threat Jordan Travis, who we saw a little bit of in this one, or freshman Chubba Purdy. I do think that Norvell can find a way to help FSU climb out of this hole, but at some point the talent on this roster has to start showing up. We're probably going to see more screens or other creative ways to disguise this atrocious O-Line, which plagued the end of the Jimbo Fisher era and the entirety of the Willie Taggart tenure.

The Coaching Carousel Has Already Begun Spinning
With athletic departments strapped for cash as a result of the ongoing pandemic, most college football people believed we'd see a relatively uneventful coaching carousel this season. To a lot of programs, spending the money to make a coaching change just doesn't make much sense right now, no matter how bad things are. That idea of an uneventful carousel was shot down within the opening weeks of September, as Southern Miss decided to mutually part ways with head coach Jay Hopson. It wasn't a completely shocking move when you consider Southern Miss hasn't taken any significant steps forward under Hopson's leadership, but it definitely was surprising given our current predicament. So where does Southern Miss go now that they've made the move? I think there's a good chance they bring back a former head coach of theirs, Larry Fedora. Fedora left Southern Miss prior to the 2012 season to take over at North Carolina, but he was let go by the Tar Heels in 2018. Currently, he's the OC at Baylor but I think he would jump at another head coaching opportunity, particularly at a place where he has familiarity and had previous success.

Scheduling Flexibility: A Reality Of the Times
Prior to this pandemic, college football scheduling was notoriously strange, with programs often setting up their schedules years in advance. But all this scheduling chaos has shown us that college football scheduling can, and should be, flexible. Take BYU for example; with 10 of their 12 originally scheduled opponents cancelling their respective seasons, the Cougars had to put together a full schedule in just a matter of weeks. They weren't the only ones, as a number of independent and FCS programs had to scrap together schedules extremely fast once conference postponements or cancellations became a factor. And now just this week, Baylor and Houston figured out a way to play each other this upcoming weekend, despite no prior plans to do so. This is going to continue to be a reality of the times we are in; as teams are forced to cancel or postpone games a result of COVID-19, there is going to need to be flexibility and creativity in order to build a schedule. Hopefully this is something that can continue once this pandemic is behind us, and can be used in case of weather cancellations or other extraneous events.

Clemson & Oklahoma Will Be Just Fine
Clemson and Oklahoma have become fixtures in the CFB Playoff during the fresh Playoff era, and the two programs again confirmed they would be in the National Championship hunt with strong opening weekends. Clemson had absolutely no problems with a decent Wake Forest team, getting up early and putting in their back-ups by the third quarter. Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne came out and dominated, and the new-look defense played fast and physical, which obviously bodes well for the Tigers in 2020. Oklahoma might not have faced a top-tier team in the form of Missouri State, but it was still a good sign that they played so comfortably despite breaking in a new QB and dealing with a long list of players out as a result of COVID. Spencer Rattler certainly did not disappoint, tossing four touchdowns even as he sat the majority of the second half. Big 12 defenses may be slightly more difficult than Missouri State, but I don't blame Sooners fans for being excited about their newest star at the quarterback position.

Louisville & Miami Will Factor Into the ACC Title Race
It will be a particularly intriguing ACC Title race in 2020, as the removal of divisions and the addition of Notre Dame for a year should make things especially competitive in the conference. Obviously Clemson is still the team to beat, but the league's middle-of-the-pack teams helped out their stock with strong opening weekends. Miami took down UAB 31-14 in Miami Gardens, thanks to a great debut from D'Eriq King and the Hurricane rushing attack. In addition, Louisville handled Western Kentucky in their home stadium by two touchdowns, as Cardinal QB Micale Cunningham went over 300 yards passing. Sure, beating two C-USA teams in your own home stadium doesn't exactly qualify as a game-changing victory, but both teams answered significant questions about themselves. Miami looked ready to roll under new play-caller Rhett Lashlee, who seems like a pretty ideal fit with King. The fact their ground game looked so dominant is also a really good sign, considering it was one of the weakest in the ACC in 2019. For the Cardinals, their offense looked really good but it was the play of their defense that should be exciting for fans. They held Western Kentucky to under 250 yards in total and limited big plays, which was a huge issue for Louisville last fall. WKU might not have the most explosive offense in college football, but it still bodes well that the Cards played so well despite having a shortened off-season.

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