Our first week of college football was a big success with several big winners. The biggest win has been avoiding (thus far) any COVID complications as a result of having some live attendance or athletes engaging in contact sports. The next biggest win was probably by the Sun Belt, which went 3-0 against the Big 12. While the Big Ten may join the fun later on after all, there’s a big opportunity for the Sun Belt to get extra viewers and ink (including here!) and they made the most of it while dispatching the Big 12’s three Midwestern teams (Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State).
This next week will pick up even more with a few more high-profile contests mixed in. In ACC country, Miami will be coming off a solid opening win against Alabama-Birmingham to travel to face Louisville, and Georgia Tech will host perennial AAC contender Central Florida. We were all also gifted with an unexpected boost to the schedule when Baylor and Houston, looking to fill in their schedules after COVID postponements (cancellations?) of other games, scheduled to play each other on Saturday at noon. That game will open a solid schedule of competitive games across the South.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on Big Ten country, where things might be moving toward a fall schedule that would introduce a few additional playoff contenders, most notably the Ohio State Buckeyes.
All times are listed as Eastern.
Boston College at Duke (-5.5) — Saturday 12 p.m. (ESPN3)
|When Boston College has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2019 Rushing S&P+||36||54|
|2019 Passing S&P+||34||24|
|When Duke has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2019 Rushing S&P+||80||110|
|2019 Passing S&P+||113||118|
The Duke Blue Devils got the season off to a solid start against Notre Dame in Week 1, losing 27-13 but holding down the Irish offense and sacking Ian Book three times. New quarterback Chase Brice, a Clemson transfer, had a solid first outing throwing for 259 yards at seven yards per attempt with zero touchdowns but also zero interceptions. Duke couldn’t really get any kind of run game going against the Irish defensive front, which played a lot of single-high defense that kept middle linebacker Drew White in the box while also slipping sensational safety Kyle Hamilton down to help out.
Boston College will be making their season debut with a tough draw coming against a team that has already played a game and did so against one of the better squads in the country. They’re also in Year 1 with a new coaching staff after the Steve Addazio era at Boston College finally came to an end. The Eagles pulled Jeff Hafley, fresh off a fantastic inaugural season as the defensive coordinator at Ohio State, and Hafley hired NFL assistant Frank Cignetti to bring a pro-style offense to Boston after years of running power-option schemes with Addazio.
Cignetti won’t have a returning starter at quarterback to help him get that going and workhorse running back A.J. Dillon — who had 318 carries for 1,685 yards at 5.3 yards per carry with 14 touchdowns — is gone. On the bright side, they return big tight end Hunter Long, who had 28 catches for 509 yards and a pair of scores a year ago. After years of working in the NFL, Cignetti should know what to do with a dual-threat tight end that can be a big play threat in the passing game.
For Hafley, star linebacker Max Richardson returns. The trick will be trying to get the secondary up to speed in a matchup-oriented scheme they ran at Ohio State that hinged on having multiple NFL cover corners starting in the secondary (three, in fact). Defensive ends Shitta Silah and Marcus Valdez will be key to their transition from a 3-4 defense. Both are converting from linebacker and neither are particularly big (Valdez is 6-foot-0 flat); they’ll need to be effective on the edge playing in closer quarters with less space against tight ends and offensive tackles.
Duke’s defense appears to be on track for another solid season. Linebackers Shaka Heyward and Rocky Shelton had sacks against Notre Dame in their blitz package and they picked Book and confused him a few times. There’s a chance that Duke’s Week 1 experience and solid defense matched against a retooling offense will actually make them a better bet than the line currently suggests.
- Quarterback Chase Brice and the Duke passing game to build on a solid Week 1 against Notre Dame.
- After transitions on offense and defense with a first-time head coach, is Boston College ready for 2020?
- Boston College tight end Hunter Long is the key to their pro-style offense and a potential NFL player.
FEI Outright Pick: Duke by 4.1
Houston at Baylor (-4) — 12 p.m. (FOX)
|When Houston has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2019 Rushing S&P+||32||11|
|2019 Passing S&P+||37||8|
|When Baylor has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2019 Rushing S&P+||104||37|
|2019 Passing S&P+||92||40|
This game is very interesting on a number of levels. If you’re a fan of Big 12 football, either in particular or stylistically (high-paced shootouts), then this is perhaps the most compelling matchup of the week. For starters, this game wasn’t going to happen in 2020. The athletic directors mixed it into the schedule when Baylor’s game with Louisiana Tech was postponed (cancelled at this point) and Houston had an open date they were willing to use in exchange for a future home game.
Baylor opened as seven-point favorites, but the spread dipped to four points as of this writing, which is concerning for Baylor. Anytime you see a point spread dip during game week you have to wonder if COVID infections or contact tracing have ruled out important starters. Beyond that, Baylor also has a quarterback in Charlie Brewer who left the last three games of the 2019 season after getting hit in the head with one confirmed (and serious) concussion. How healthy are the Bears going into this game? Or is the betting market just looking to try and cash in one more time on a Big 12 team facing a strong Group of Five team in Week 1 before getting their feet under them?
Beyond all that intrigue, this would be a pretty interesting game regardless. In Year 1 at Houston last season, Dana Holgorsen started the season 1-3 and then tanked the rest of the year. He asked multiple senior starters who hadn’t used redshirts, including quarterback D’Eriq King, to redshirt for the rest of the season so they could return for another go in 2020. That maneuver ended up costing Holgorsen King, who did redshirt only to transfer to Miami, but it also helped Houston develop a younger roster. The Cougars now go into this contest with a quarterback in Clayton Tune who got in seven starts in 2019 before getting a few more spring practices than anyone else (Houston started before most teams) and then an additional offseason as the main focus of Holgorsen’s development and attention.
There’s a lot of continuity rolling in Houston’s direction that could come to bear. They also infused their roster with some extra talent via the transfer portal. Nickel linebacker Jovanni Stewart joined Holgorsen from West Virginia, allowing the Cougars to bump in star nickel Grant Stuard inside to weakside linebacker. They also added All-Sun Belt cornerback Marcus Jones, a speedy cover man and special teams star, to man a cornerback position opposite returning starter Damarion Williams. On offense they return the deadly Tune-to-Marquez Stevenson connection; Stevenson had 52 catches for 907 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago.
Baylor’s skill talent is probably better still. They have running backs Trestan Ebner and John Lovett back and a receiving corps headlined by deep threat Tyquan Thornton (45 catches, 782 yards, five touchdowns in 2019) and chains-moving R.J. Sneed (42 catches, 437 yards, three touchdowns in 2019). Baylor also has star left tackle Connor Galvin back from injury, which should greatly help in keeping Brewer upright and healthy. In four games that Galvin missed in 2019, Brewer was sacked 16 times.
What makes this game particularly compelling is that Baylor is completely starting over on defense from a year ago. They lost nine starters from the defense that powered them to the Big 12 Championship Game, including the entire defensive line that was able to offer them a pass rush while only rushing three. New Baylor head coach Dave Aranda has been an attacking, blitzing coordinator in previous stops at LSU and Wisconsin. This is his first head coaching gig, but he hired longtime offensive coach and former North Carolina head man Larry Fedora to coach the offense while pairing him with LSU staffer Billy Gonzalez to bring some of the Tigers’ championship magic. The big concern will be how he adjusts his defensive strategies to Big 12 offensive strategies, which Houston employs under former Big 12 coach Holgorsen. The Bears welcomed inside linebacker Dillon Doyle from Iowa and outside linebacker William Bradley-King from Arkansas State. They’ll need big production from each to make things work and come together quickly enough to ease Baylor back into the world of shootouts.
- How healthy is Baylor? Did that line move for a reason or will they go into this game healthy and fully manned?
- Can Dave Aranda rebuild and retool a turned-over Baylor defense in time to hold up against Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense?
- Lots of points. Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton and Houston’s Marquez Stevenson, both receivers, are big-play threats that could have a high-noon duel.
FEI Outright Pick: Baylor by 11.3
Appalachian State (-4.5) at Marshall — 1:30 p.m. (CBSSN)
|When Appalachian State has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2019 Rushing S&P+||27||49|
|2019 Passing S&P+||72||60|
|When Marshall has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2019 Rushing SP+||24||47|
|2019 Passing SP+||17||84|
In the last two years, Appalachian State had two different head coaches and won the Sun Belt twice despite the turnover in between. Longtime Mountaineer Scott Satterfield coached the 2018 unit and parlayed their championship into the head coaching job at Louisville. He was replaced by North Carolina State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz, who helped the Mountaineers repeat as champions and then was poached by Missouri for their head coaching vacancy. The constant through it all has been offensive line coach Shawn Clark, who built the stretch-blocking unit that was powering both Satterfield and Drinkwitz’s offenses, so Appalachian State promoted him to be head coach to try and win the title a third time.
Clark’s offense will return four starters on the line, as well as quarterback Zac Thomas and his top receivers (Malik Thomas, Zac Hennigan). Running back Darrynton Evans is off to the NFL after a strong season, but as good a player as he was, it’s really the Mountaineers stretch zone blocking scheme and line that fuels their success. They regularly recruit smaller, superior athletes to fill out their line and beat teams to the edges with speed, setting up the rest of their offense. In their Week 1 battle with Charlotte, they had two different backs rush for over 100 yards. Appalachian State also had a strong defense in 2019, which returns linebackers Trey Cobb and D’Marco Jackson and cornerback Shaun Jolly. There’s little reason to believe they won’t be back in the thick of it for another Sun Belt title.
At Marshall, Doc Holliday’s Thundering Herd got out to a strong start to the season by whipping Eastern Kentucky 59-0. Redshirt freshman Grant Wells had a promising start, throwing for 307 yards at 13.3 yards per attempt with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Lead running back Brenden Knox returns as does a large cast of receivers that got their feet wet in 2019 while Marshall was paced by the run game and departed receiver Armani Levias.
Marshall tends to have pretty good athletes on the perimeter of their offense and that will test Appalachian State’s ability to simply pound them into submission with the “defense + run game” strategy that tends to secure their contests against Sun Belt competition. If things do get high scoring and competitive, though, the Mountaineers will get a major leg up from Thomas returning for his third consecutive season as a starter. Thomas is a vet who executed Drinkwitz’s dropback passing game well in 2019 on third downs and understands how to take care of the football.
- How well does Appalachian State fare on defense against Marshall’s athletes on offense?
- Can Marshall freshman quarterback Grant Wells keep pace with Appalachian State’s veteran passer Zac Thomas?
- The Appalachian State wide zone run game, which continues to power them to the top of the Sun Belt.
FEI Outright Pick: Appalachian State by 8.6
Central Florida (-7.5) at Georgia Tech — 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
|Overall||Central Florida||Georgia Tech|
|When Central Florida has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2019 Rushing SP+||24||96|
|2019 Passing SP+||12||81|
|When Georgia Tech has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2019 Rushing SP+||53||81|
|2019 Passing SP+||15||105|
Georgia Tech’s Week 1 test of growth in their post-flexbone era went reasonably well. The main driver has been head coach Geoff Collins’ defense, which shut down Florida State in a 16-13 victory. The Yellow Jackets played tight man coverage on the Seminoles and surprisingly held Florida State quarterback James Blackman to 198 yards and 4.6 yards per attempt on 43 pass attempts. Georgia Tech’s own plodding offense kept chugging along until a strip-sack early in the fourth quarter gifted Georgia Tech the ball on the Florida State 11-yard line and set them up to kick the game-winning field goal.
This should be a tougher game; it has been a while since Florida State was the better football team over their new-money rivals out of Orlando. The Knights will have an advantage this season from returning their starting quarterback; in 2019 they opted to start over with freshman Dillon Gabriel, and he rewarded them with a strong first season, throwing for 3,653 yards at 9.2 yards per attempt with 29 touchdowns to seven interceptions. His backfield mate Otis Anderson also returns, but the Knights will need to find a new No. 1 receiver after losing Gabriel Davis to the NFL. Tre Nixon and Marlon Williams are back and their development will be key.
The key to dealing with Central Florida’s RPO- and play-action-heavy spread offense has typically been to play man coverage to deny easy RPO reads and force the Knights to either run on numbers in the box or prove they can execute their passing game against tight man coverage. Georgia Tech will clearly opt for that strategy after utilizing it so effectively a week ago against Florida State and we’ll get a nice test of whether the Knights’ offense has been able to take a step forward in the offseason.
On the flip side, Central Florida has multiple starters back in their own secondary to frustrate the Georgia Tech offense. Star cornerback Nevelle Clark moves on, but a deep rotation of safeties led by senior Richie Grant return. Their big issues could be along the defensive front, where two main defensive ends opted out of the season, leaving the Knights to piece together a line and pass-rush with all new parts. 2019’s leading tackler Nate Evans, their main inside linebacker, graduated, but his two main counterparts Eriq Gilyard and Eric Mitchell both return after combining for 154 tackles a year ago.
Central Florida has their program rolling along in pretty good shape these days with years of recruiting as an AAC contender; if they can get over the hump of how to generate offense against big programs with the athletes to play man coverage, it’ll be a good sign they’re ready to take back over in the AAC West against Cincinnati.
- Georgia Tech’s strong secondary playing man coverage against Central Florida’s high-flying offense.
- How much has Central Florida quarterback Dillon Gabriel grown since his big freshman year?
- Will the Knights defense, depleted by opt-outs, be ready to stop Georgia Tech in Week 1?
FEI Outright Pick: Central Florida by 7.6
Miami at Louisville (-2) — 7:30 p.m. (ABC)
|When Miami has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2019 Rushing SP+||53||113|
|2019 Passing SP+||69||90|
|When Louisville has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2019 Rushing SP+||25||28|
|2019 Passing SP+||20||8|
This is a fun rivalry within the ACC sphere. Louisville has tended to recruit south Florida pretty heavily, which is common for any team but Louisville at times (particularly under Charlie Strong) would really make it an emphasis. For Miami, being the unofficial mascot of Miami and greater South Florida has been their claim to fame.
Scott Satterfield had some great initial success getting the Louisville offense humming in 2019. Running back Javian Hawkins got rolling for 1,525 yards at 5.8 yards per carry and that helped set up new quarterback Micale Cunningham to throw for 2,061 yards at an eye-catching 11.6 yards per attempt with 22 touchdowns to just five interceptions. Satterfield took from his Appalachian State experience the value of employing wide zone blocking at the college level and brought a Sean McVay/Kyle Shanahan style of offense, using the wide zone run scheme with motions and sweeps to set up highly efficient play-action passing.
The key to stopping that scheme is being able to play either the run or pass honestly without putting defenders in bad spots and run/pass conflicts. That’s the key to stopping most of college football’s RPO/play-action offenses as well, but the schemes and leverage points are different. Instead of the offense hammering the perimeter with quick passes and powering the ball inside with straight-ahead zone schemes, these offenses stress the perimeter with the run game and then add layered passing concepts that work against the flow. Manny Diaz’s Miami defense would do well to borrow Bill Belichick’s approach, which involved playing man coverage with the secondary and weighting the perimeter with focused run-stoppers and aggressive defensive line techniques. If the Hurricanes trust their deep safety and inside linebackers enough, that could prove an effective strategy.
But defense wasn’t the concern for Miami a year ago, it was a moribund offense that they transformed in the offseason by hiring Gus Malzahn disciple Rhett Lashlee fresh off a fantastic season at SMU and bringing in Houston transfers D’Eriq King (quarterback) and Jarrid Williams (right tackle). Lashlee did wonders for Texas transfer quarterback Shane Buechele at SMU last season by building a power run game from 12 personnel and creating opportunities for Buechele to throw to eventual NFL draft pick James Proche going against one-on-one matchups. In Week 1 he appeared to be back in his comfort zone with King as the Hurricanes ran two-back zone-read plays reminiscent of the Nick Marshall Auburn offense of 2013.
King ran the ball against Alabama-Birmingham 12 times for 83 yards and a score while helping clear a path for lead back Cam’Ron Harris to turn 17 carries into 134 yards and two more scores. Those actions also opened up nasty opportunities to hit tight end Brevin Jordan releasing into the second level not to block but to suddenly appear as a receiver. He had three catches for 51 yards and a score. It’s a tough matchup for a Louisville defense coming off a rough initial season. Their linebacker had a great start in Week 1 against Western Kentucky, but the speed and agility of King and Harris darting behind a big offensive line will be a different sort of challenge.
- Louisville’s McVay/Shanahan style of wide zone offense against Miami’s zone-option approach.
- Can the Louisville linebackers keep good tabs on Miami quarterback D’Eriq King or tight end Brevin Jordan in the option run game?
- How will Louisville quarterback Micale Cunningham handle Manny Diaz’s pressure packages?
FEI Outright Pick: Louisville by 1.5
Wake Forest at North Carolina State (-2.5) — 8 p.m. (ACCN)
|Overall||Wake Forest||North Carolina State|
|Proj. FEI rating||57||78|
|When Wake Forest has the ball||Offense||Defense|
|2019 Rushing SP+||109||68|
|2019 Passing SP+||38||68|
|When North Carolina State has the ball||Defense||Offense|
|2019 Rushing SP+||77||84|
|2019 Passing SP+||72||119|
Wake Forest opened their post-Jamie Newman 2020 season against Clemson last week and went down 37-13. All things considered, that wasn’t a terrible result given Clemson’s point spread in that game and annual status as a national contender. Quarterback Sam Hartman had a decent initial outing, avoiding interceptions and throwing for 182 yards at 8.7 yards per attempt while taking four sacks and working without a functioning run game against the Tigers defense. The defense didn’t fare as well, facing what was basically a running clock by Clemson after the Tigers built a 27-0 lead going into the half and expanded it to 37-3 before taking out Trevor Lawrence and running clock.
North Carolina State will be a much easier opponent. The Wolfpack went 4-8 in 2019 after losing offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz to Appalachian State and quarterback Ryan Finley to the NFL. Redshirt sophomore Devin Leary will be back at the helm after starting six games at quarterback in 2019. It was a mixed debut; he threw for only 5.8 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns to five interceptions, but he’ll have top receivers Emeka Emezie and Devin Carter back. It’s common for teams returning the same quarterback and receiver tandems to make sizable leaps the following year from the improved chemistry and timing.
North Carolina State’s defense is the particular focus of head coach Dave Doeren, and he has fielded some impressive defensive lines in Raleigh. They lose Larrell Murchison, a fifth-round draft pick in 2020, but nose tackle Alim McNeil returns to anchor newcomers to his left and right. The Wolfpack will play a 3-4 front this season around McNeil, a 6-foot-2, 320-pounder in the middle, and have some big linebackers in the middle that will be playing behind him. It’ll once again be a struggle for Wake Forest to establish the run in the middle of the field, they’ll need to hope that Sam Hartman and the passing game can make something more than they did against the Tigers secondary.
The NC State secondary has to replace cornerback Nick McCloud, who transferred to Notre Dame, but they’ll have rising junior Teshaun Smith at one spot and return big Malik Dunlap (6-foot-2, 224 pounds) as an option at the other corner spot. Safeties Jakeen Harris and Tanner Ingle played heavily in 2019 and Ingle was the team’s second-leading tackler. It’s a big physical defense at most every level that the Demon Deacons will need to find ways around rather than through.
- Can Wake Forest’s RPO offense find more traction against NC State’s nose tackle Alim McNeil and their 3-4 defense?
- How will Sam Hartman fare against a big, experienced NC State secondary?
- How far along has NC State’s passing game come along after returning young quarterback Devin Leary and two top targets out at receiver?
FEI Outright Pick: Wake Forest by 1.2
FEI PICKS: WEEK 2
|Favorite||Spread||Underdog||FEI Pick||FEI Pick
Against the Spread
Against the Spread
|at Duke||5.5||Boston College||Duke||Boston College||Duke|
|Appalachian State||4.5||at Marshall||Appalachian State||Appalachian State||Appalachian State|
|Central Florida||7.5||at Georgia Tech||Central Florida||Central Florida||Central Florida|
|at North Carolina State||2.5||Wake Forest||Wake Forest||Wake Forest||North Carolina State|
FEI picks against the spread in Week 1: 4-2
FEI picks against the spread last year: 46-40
Ian’s picks against the spread in Week 1: 3-3
Ian’s Picks against the spread last year: 43-43