The Bowl Season gets the love. And Thanksgiving is considered a football holy weekend. But for my money, the solid week of CFB during Labor Day is just the best. Teams are rusty, no one has any idea of what they’re doing, games tend to be nutty and go off the rails (looking at you Duke-Charlotte, Boise State-UCF), and there are plenty of intriguing intersectional matchups. The Big 10 also did us a solid with some great early season B1G games.)
This year is no different. We’ve already had some big ticket games, so to speak, but tomorrow through Monday have a lot of great games to offer...or at least potentially fun ones.
No. 19 Penn State (+5.5) at No. 12 Wisconsin (11 Fox) — The way both of these teams played last year should not fill either fan base with confidence, esp. Penn State, which was as bad a team as they have fielded in 20 years. This season has a bit more normalcy, and two teams that will field incredibly salty defenses. Wisconsin is a beast at home, and Penn State is terrible on the road. The winner may get into the 20s, but this is going to be an old school Big 10 affair. Come for the manball, stay to watch James Franklin’s 4th Quarter coaching malpractice.
No. 17 Indiana (+3) at No. 18 Iowa (2:30 BTN) — One of those rare games where you wish you had the Big 10 network. Ferentz will have his most complete team in a few years, one completely capable of playing for a conference title. Indiana returns their plucky group, though not quite as experienced as last season nor with the element of surprise. On paper, it looks to be another good low-scoring contest. But I get the feeling that Iowa could also turn it on and wreck the Hoosiers. Let’s see what Tom Allen does for an encore at UI.
No. 3 Georgia -3 at No. 5 Clemson (6:30 ESPN) — For obvious reasons, when the No. 5 and No. 3 teams meet, you have to watch. And is it possible that one or both of these teams are ranked too highly? Not only possible, but very likely. Which one, remains the question. Someone is going to do something incredibly stupid down the stretch and/or there will be a game-changing bad call on the field. And the meltdown will be glorious.
No. 1 Alabama (-19 ½) vs. No. 14 Miami (2:30 ESPN) – Alabama, and the Tide’s many questions, we know about. But for the ‘Canes? This is the most loaded Miami team in quite a while. Diaz has cordoned off the Miami-Dade region and taken in a lot of high quality transfers. He’s out of excuses, frankly, for constantly flopping in big games. Not just flopping, but not even competing. Will this be another ‘Bama beatdown of a pretty good bowl team? Will this be another flop by the U against an overpowering legit contender? I lean more towards the latter, but you never know (yes, you do actually.)
No. 9 Notre Dame (-7 ½) at Florida State (Sunday, 6:30 ESPN) – The rebuilding Golden Domers travel to the Doak to face Mike Norvell’s rebuilding ‘Noles. This was a bad ass game thirty years ago. And I suspect it could be again in another year or two. But in 2021 it figures to be a bit ragged for both, though few are calling for Notre Dame to struggle (you heard it here first). One thing Norvell did well overall last year was get his guys up at home, even beating the snot out of then- No. 10 UNC with his ragtag cast of miscreants, transfers, JUCOs, and leftovers. And Brian Kelly does have a habit of getting off to slow starts. Very loseable game for ND (who by no stretch of the imagination is a Top 10 team this season.)
Ole Miss (-9) vs. Luhvl (Atlanta, Monday 7:00 ESPN) – Insert your own “this is the only way Ole Miss will get to Atlanta”-jokes. For now, they’re true. But that may not necessarily be the case forever, particularly if Lane Kiffin ever gets the defense sorted out and finds a QB that will stop giving it away like a ten-cent hooker on nickel night. Fortunately for the Rebels, the Cardinals are also a turnover prone second tier squad facing a lot of defensive issues of their own. I like both of these coaches, and think they’ll both get the ship righted with enough patience. But for now, enjoy the clown car nuttiness of two high-flying offensive minds competing against their opponents, as well as their own teams’ often-hilarious foibles and structural weaknesses...And, man, it’s really hard to overlook how poorly Ole Miss played on the road last year.
Worth Checking Out:
Army (+2.5) at Georgia State (11 ESPNU) — Two quality midmajor teams with contrasting styles. The triple option Black Knights attack hits the road to face the powerful Panthers passing game. And yet, for all the focus on the offenses, it may still wind up being a low scoring game rather than a shootout. Army’s defense is stout; and GSU isn’t a slouch at home. Either way, I’m cool with it. Should be a very good one.
Central Michigan (+13) at Missouri (3:00 SECN) — If Mizzou wants to be a player it has to dispatch solid midmajors. The Chippewas are just that too, easily capable of winning a loaded MAC. Speaking of Mac...Coach McElwain has done a great job in Mount Pleasant.
No. 23 ULL +9 at No. 21 Texas (3:30 Fox) — The Saban Assistant Bowl. Former WRC Billy Napier’s outstanding and physical ULL Ragin’ Cajuns travel to Austin to meet the new-look, pass-happy Longhorns. Steve Sarkisian, you may remember him.
UTSA +5 at Illinois (6:30 BTN) – I have my eye on BERT’s Illinois team this year. They looked better last week than they have in a full calendar year. Their opponent this week is one you ought to respect, no matter the helmet. The Roadrunners are a legitimate CUSA contender, and it’s not like the Illini can afford to overlook anyone.
Stanford (+3) at Kansas State (11:00 FSN1) – Two veteran, high caliber coaches exiled to some of CFB’s most formidable spots to win consistently, though for very different reasons. KSU has been trying to bulk up its roster, and is still a run-first and defensive minded team that also can drop scores in bunches through the air with the right momentum. And this Stanford team is the quietest program no one is talking about in the Pac 12. It’s one of the more experienced and steadier programs this 2021, though by no means its flashiest. That is when Shaw tends to do some of his greatest damage. Should be a rarity for the early season: a very physical, fundamentally sound football game. The body clock here is going to suck for the Treeees though – 9:00 local time.
Be Ready the Grab the Remote:
San Jose State (+19) at No. 15 USC (5:00 P12N): The reigning MWC Champion Spartans travel to the Coliseum to see what kind of madness Helton’s underperforming Trojans have in store this year. IRL, the Spartans superseded those Anatolian Men of Troy, so will life mirror art mirror life? How is USC ranked and SJSU not?
No. 16 LSU at UCLA (+3) (7:00 FOX) – We like the Bruins this year to cause a giant mess in the Pac 12, and we generally think LSU is one of a trio of teams that can finish as runners-up in the SEC West. The problem is that for the similarities on paper (questions on defense, veteran offense, jerk head coaches, etc.), that this doesn’t figure to actually be very competitive at the final whistle. LSU’s talent level is a whole ‘nother level. But, if UCLA comes to play, and the Tigers’ defense is still piss-poor...
Western Michigan (+17) at Michigan – The best team in Michigan travels to face its most well-known. And no matter the final score, WMU is still the better overall team, and will be playing for a lot more in December than the Wolverines will. Surely UM won’t get MAC’d in the Big House...again?
Marshall (-3) at Navy (2:30 CBSSN) – Tired of all that unseemly forward passing and the attendant scoring it brings? Want to watch teams win with superior execution, line play, defense, tasteful punting, and good ole’ fashioned #RTDB? This is right up your alley. Navy, you know about. Marshall, helmed by former Alabama RBC Charles Huff, brings back a team that is built to win the CUSA – led by a stout defense, a great rushing attack, and enough passing to get the job done.
Southern Miss (+1) at South Alabama (7:00 ESPN) – Two new head coaches at two coastal programs heading in different directions. USA is especially intriguing, with new coach Wommack (former Indiana DC), and Major Applewhite pulling the trigger on the offense. It’s evenly matched on paper, and probably evenly matched IRL. What South lacks in talent, they make up for with scheme and experience.
There are also three non-con Pac 12 games of note to watch here, and both could easily get chaotic. Oregon State’s pass-first offense travels to face Purdue, who followed up their beatdown season of Ohio State with a flop of the highest magnitude. This has the potential to be a fun shootout if both teams come to play (OSU + at Purdue, 6:30 FS1).
Nevada (+6) at Cal (9:30 FSN) – How will the Wolfpack follow up their best season since the Kaepernick era a decade ago? We’ll find out when the younger Norvell brother travels to Berkeley to face the heinous Cal Golden Bears, and Justin Wilcox’s defense-first squad. I think Cal probably strangles the Wolfpack; it’s just what they do. But it won’t be pretty. Cal’s offense is consistently the worst I’ve seen at a P12 team in the modern era...and when your team was the former DC at Wisconsin, should that really surprise anyone?
The final one is Utah State (+17) at Washington State. To say it’s been a bumpy offseason for Rolo in Pullman is an understatement. Meanwhile, former Ark. State headman, Blake Anderson, was brought over from the Red Wolves to correct the disaster that Gary Andersen left in Logan. The Aggies will be a lot better than they were last season (or the year before), but did Andersen do too much damage to a once-proud, quality MWC team? Vegas isn’t sold...I’m a little more bullish on this one. Quality coaches at bad programs are always fun. This game will tell us a great deal about both teams (USU +17 at Washington State, 10:00 P12N).
Oh, God, the Blood!
I’m not even going to bother looking up the broadcasting info or exact spreads here. Suffice it to say, this kind of scheduling is why the SEC gets mocked...before destroying opponents in bowl games and playing for national titles. All of these are paycheck slaughters, all are on the road, and all are underdogs by at least three touchdowns. Feel free to gamble on them, but don’t accidentally watch a moment of this trash.
- Kent State at Texas A&M
- FAU at Florida
- Rice at Arkansas
- New Mexico State at San Diego State
- Umass at Pitt
- Akron at Auburn
- UL-Monroe at Kentucky
This Week’s Unwatchable Filth
The 2021 season has started out with a bang; there are a ton of low-quality body bag games to choose from. But I’m going to go with one that you don’t really think of, an AAC vs. Big 12 matchup that everyone is sleeping on in terms of trash: Texas Tech (+1) at Houston.
What makes this game unwatchable? In terms of competitiveness, it is likely to be every bit as close as the oddsmakers suggest. But, no, it’s unwatchable for a very different reason: frustrating, anti-clutch play and some truly stupid coaching decisions.
Going back almost a decade, Holgo’s horrendous decision-making and roster management has been a known issue. He’s abrasive, he’s lazy, his strategy is incoherent, he isolated the storied WVU alumni, and he is fundamentally incapable of getting his teams up for a big game — an issue dating back to at least 2013. At every stop along the way, he’s been on the hot seat for a reason that makes perfect sense: the on-field product isn’t matching what the roster and schedule should. It’s self-inflicted underperformance to a tee.
His opponent, Texas Tech’s Matt Wells is trying to take that mantle away from Holgorsen though. In fact, he is aiming to be the most hated head coach in Lubbock since Tubby, and perhaps ever. Last season the Red Raiders imploded in no less than three contests, and all because of in-game coaching, lack of clock management, and inability to manage the game.
Want a taste? How about versus TCU:
Two-plus months into the 2020 college football season, Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells wins the award for dumbest call of the year. Texas Tech is going to lose to TCU on Saturday night. The Red Raiders are trailing the Horned Frogs by 16 points with time running out.
Before TCU went up by 16 points, Texas Tech had the ball in Horned Frogs territory, trailing by nine points with just less than three minutes remaining. On second and four from the 20-yard line, Wells opted to go for a field goal.
Want another one? Try this.
How about another. Here ya’ go. And on, and on, and on.
Two coaches in loveless marriages with their administration, who choke away big games, who can’t manage the moment, who do incredibly stupid things with their alumni and fans, and then don’t even have the self-respect to win a few meaningful contests.
No, it won’t be terrible football. But if incompetence troubles you, and it should, you will steer clear of this one tonight. Holgo and Wells are going to put on one of the most unwatchably frustrating games of the season...and I doubt either are back next year.