One of the most difficult aspects of Week 1 is not overreacting to everything you see. It’s just … it’s tough not to do that when you’ve waited so long to see teams in action, and then they’re right there in front of you … in action. Your brain is desperate to reach a conclusion about players, coaches and teams in general. These guys are great, these guys suck and those uniforms are nice.
But even with that in mind, and with a concerted effort on my part not to overreact to anything I saw this weekend one way or the other, I could not escape one particular thought while watching Georgia dismantle Oregon 49-3 with surgical precision: What if Georgia is better this season?
It wasn’t the overall ability on display; that was evident last season when the Bulldogs won a national title. There were very few teams in the country capable of matching them in the talent department, and even after losing so many key parts to the NFL (as well as the transfer portal), I knew Georgia had plenty behind it. It didn’t take long for the Dawgs to flex in your face, as five-star freshman Malaki Starks showed you how he earned all five of those stars and probably deserves a sixth with an early interception.
No, what stood out more than anything was the Georgia offense. Last year’s Bulldogs offense didn’t receive much credit. It had a former walk-on at quarterback in Stetson Bennett, and this is the era of the Five-Star Prototype QB. If you don’t have one, most dismiss your offense entirely. So nobody noticed that the Georgia offense finished third nationally in offensive success rate (Alabama was 18th), seventh in points per possession or eighth in EPA (expected points added) per play last season. Those who did dismissed it as a byproduct of being paired with an otherworldly defense that took the pressure off and handed Georgia excellent field position all year. There was certainly truth to it.
Georgia’s average starting field position last season was its 31-yard line, which ranked 24th nationally. That’s certainly an advantage, but it was tied with Clemson, another team with an otherworldly defense that gave its offense every advantage. Yet, the Clemson offense didn’t quite compare to Georgia’s, did it?
On Saturday, Georgia didn’t have that benefit. Its average drive began at the Georgia 21.7-yard line, but that didn’t stop the Bulldogs from scoring seven touchdowns on nine possessions. Those seven touchdown drives averaged 76.6 yards. This was not an offense taking advantage of a short field. Their success rate of 63.1% ranks third nationally but first among teams that played FBS opponents (Miami and Baylor rank first and second). And Georgia’s FBS opponent was ranked No. 11 to start the year.
The other unexpected aspect of it was that Georgia’s passing attack was what thrived. Bennett was throwing the ball all over the field, and the Bulldogs had a 29.7% explosive play rate (6th nationally so far). Now, it’s not as if Bennett was chucking the ball downfield or anything; the average air yards on his passes was only 5.06 yards. It was a lot of short passes with big gains afterward. But we’re not evaluating Bennett as an NFL prospect, we’re evaluating him as a conductor of the offense, and he and Georgia made beautiful music together.
I came into the season thinking Georgia would reach the College Football Playoff again, but it didn’t have the horses to beat both Alabama and Ohio State. If the offense I saw face Oregon is the same one that shows up all season, it’s time to reevaluate.
Is Georgia better this season? It just might be.
Worst Scheduling Decisions of the Week
This one goes out to the ACC, which had not one, not two, but three of its schools playing road games against Group of Five opponents this weekend. Virginia Tech was on the road to face Old Dominion, while NC State made a trip to East Carolina and North Carolina went to the mountains to play Appalachian State. The intrepid trio managed to escape with a 2-1 record, but it very easily could’ve been 0-3.
East Carolina missed a field goal and an extra point in a 21-20 loss to NC State. Appalachian State failed to convert on two different 2-point conversions in a 63-61 (sixty-three to sixty-one) loss to North Carolina. And none of these games should’ve been played.
I get it. It’s an admirable thing to do for these ACC schools. Playing in-state rivals from smaller leagues in their stadium is a genuinely nice thing to do and a great show of solidarity. The problem is there’s a thin line between admirable and stupid, and the ACC is not in a position to do the admirable thing.
The league is locked into a bad television deal for roughly the next billion years. The most feasible way to increase revenue in that time will be money from the new College Football Playoff contract — money that will likely be broken down by how many teams you get into the playoff. The ACC’s reputation isn’t the best right now, and scheduling games it could lose like this won’t help.
Sure, you can mock the SEC for playing FCS teams late in the season. You can roll your eyes at all those home games against MAC teams the Big Ten plays in September. But guess what? They win those games, go to bowls and improve their conference’s reputation.
Be a little more selfish, ACC. You’re a Power Five conference. Act like one.
Facial Hair of the Week
Looking good, Brad Robbins. Looking good. Robbins might have a lot more time to work on his facial hair this season, because after watching Michigan put up 51 points against Colorado State, he might not be asked to punt often.
Fourth-and-Goal Punt of the Week
Congratulations to Rutgers, a college football program that cannot stop making history. Not only was Rutgers the first school to play a college football game, but on Saturday, it became the first college football team to punt on fourth-and-goal from the opponent’s 43-yard line.
After facing a first-and-goal from the Boston College 10 in the first quarter, an offensive pass interference call backed the Knights up to the BC 23. A holding call on the next play pushed them back to the 33. That was followed by an incomplete pass, a false start and a holding call.
What’s crazier? While I don’t know for sure that Rutgers is the first team in history to punt on fourth-and-goal from the 43 (I’m not sure where I could even look it up), I am confident Rutgers is the first team in history to punt on fourth-and-goal from the 43-yard line in a game and win the game. That’s what the Knights did, beating Boston College 22-21. Maybe we should add not scheduling home games against Power Five opponents to the ACC’s new scheduling rules too?
The Back Team of the Week
It happens every year. A team that’s been down the last few seasons has a big win to start the new campaign, and we officially declare they are back. Well, in this case, it’s Florida State’s players declaring they’re back after a 24-23 win over LSU in the Caesars Superdome. I don’t believe it, but I’m happy to play along strictly for the vibes.
Listen, it’s a huge win for Florida State and one Mike Norvell and Co. needed. But nothing I saw between the Seminoles and Tigers Sunday night leads me to believe that either one of these teams will be anything special in 2022. That’s not to say they won’t flirt with being ranked all season long, and honestly, that should be enough for both. But Florida State isn’t BACK. It’s simply on the right track.
Superstar of the Week
Remember last season when Florida fans were begging for Dan Mullen to put Anthony Richardson in over Emory Jones? It wasn’t that Richardson was lighting it up when he did get the opportunity; it was more that Gators fans had seen enough of Jones and thought there was a higher ceiling in Richardson.
Well, the ceiling was on display against Utah. I saw people comparing Richardson to Vince Young and Cam Newton following his standout performance (168 yards passing, 106 rushing, 3 total TD), and while we’re putting the cart way in front of the horse there, I can at least see the vision.
Of course, I also wonder what unintended side effects Florida’s 29-26 win over No. 7 Utah could have. It was Billy Napier’s first game in charge and Richardson’s first as the starter. It ended with a win over a top-10 team. I fear, however, that it could raise expectations in Gainesville prematurely.
Stat of the Week
I sometimes wonder if Iowa football exists solely to let fans who hate their team’s offensive coordinator remember that it could be worse.
Low Key Game of the Week
Each week in The Monday After, I will highlight a great game that won’t get much national attention because it wasn’t a matchup featuring highly-ranked teams. This week, we tip our cap to Houston’s thrilling 37-35 win over UTSA in triple-overtime.
I went into Week 1 with this game circled on the schedule because it intrigued me. Houston this year has high expectations because it is one of the most experienced teams in the G5, and people see the Cougars as a real contender for a New Year’s Six bid and an AAC title. I also wanted to see what UTSA looked like coming off an exciting season but without star running back Sincere McCormick and offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr.
I did not think the game would be as incredible as it was, but my primary takeaway is that both teams are legitimately good and could wind up winning their respective conferences this season.
College Football Playoff Projection of the Week
Just a reminder, this is not what I think will happen at the end of the season, but rather my guess as to what I think the selection committee would do if releasing rankings this week.
- Ohio State
Until the next Monday After!