Week 1 occasionally delivers truly great football, an epic battle of two teams destined for a playoff run.
It also delivers some awful football, as two teams still shaking off the rust of a long offseason wage a battle of attrition.
But Saturday’s noon slate gave us something else entirely. It was a Schrödinger’s cat of college football — both great and awful, beautiful and horrifying, live and dead, all at once.
On the wide open plains of Iowa, the Hawkeyes delivered a win so gloriously ugly, the only true complaint is that the 7-3 final score was marred by a late safety that left even Iowa fans, now secure in victory, dejected. It was a game that deserved a 5-3 final. To have anything else would be like Charles Dickens writing “A Tale of Two Cities” then naming it “A Book About France.”
— no context college football (@nocontextcfb) September 3, 2022
Upon the rolling hills of western North Carolina, the Tar Heels and Appalachian State packed nearly nine full Iowa games into the fourth quarter alone. App State jumped out to a 21-7 lead; UNC roared back and led 41-21 entering the fourth quarter, and then things got fun.
The Mountaineers scored on back-to-back drives. UNC answered. Two more App State touchdowns followed before the Tar Heels scored on a 42-yard pass from Drake Maye to take a 56-49 lead with just 2:50 to play.
Then four more touchdowns happened. Seriously — four more TDs than in the entirety of the Iowa-South Dakota State game happened in less than 3 minutes of action at App State. It’s possible space-time ceased to exist for a while.
The Tar Heels appeared to have escaped when Chase Brice overthrew his receiver on a 2-point try with 31 seconds to play, but North Carolina went and did the dumbest thing it could possibly do in the aftermath. It scored again. Putting UNC’s defense on the field was akin to setting off fireworks in your closet. And sure enough, Brice hit Kaedin Robinson for a 26-yard TD pass with 9 seconds remaining to give App State one last 2-point try to tie.
The ending was anticlimactic. Brice was tackled at the 1 on a scramble — or perhaps he just collapsed from sheer exhaustion.
In all, Brice and Maye threw for a combined 10 touchdowns, with each topping 350 yards through the air. Or, as they say in Iowa, a full season of Big Ten play.
Iowa and South Dakota State combined for 16 first downs and 21 completed passes. Or, as they say in North Carolina, the stuff you missed while in line for a beer.
It was wondrous. It was agonizing. It was dizzying and terrible and electric. It defied explanation at every turn.
It was exactly the way to kick off Week 1 of the college football season.
Maybe just pay the up-charge next time
This season, the ACC will play 10 road games against teams outside the Power 5. No other Power 5 league plays more than three. And yet, this isn’t new. By year’s end, the ACC will have played nearly as many such games (64) in the playoff era as the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC have combined (78).
The first three of these road trips came Friday, when Virginia Tech first got stuck in an elevator then shot itself in the foot, losing to Old Dominion 20-17 in head coach Brent Pry’s debut.
On Saturday, North Carolina and NC State both came within inches of suffering the same fate on the road vs. American Athletic Conference foes.
UNC needed approximately 36 narrow escapes in the final moments against App State to avoid embarrassment.
NC State looked even worse. The Wolfpack blew back-to-back drives in which they had the ball at the 1-yard line with a chance to go up 14, then watched ECU score late, miss a PAT, get a stop, drive into field goal range, then miss another kick. NC State hung on for the 21-20 win that, while a victory in the standings, surely deflated much of the preseason hype the team had gotten as a possible dark-horse playoff candidate.
In all, the ACC has lost 20 road games outside the Power 5 in the playoff era — three more than the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12 combined — and it’s certainly doing little to help the reputation of a league that’s in dire need of some good vibes.
So, why does the league keep doing it?
The first answer is money. Promising a home game for Group of Five opponents saves ACC teams the cost of paying for a one-off visit to their stadium, though there’s a good argument to be made that the cost of taking an L in one of those games is even bigger. The ACC has essentially decided to sit on a plane with a suitcase on its lap rather than pay to check a bag.
The second answer is politics, and while the state legislature didn’t directly force North Carolina or NC State to visit their small-school neighbors, critical funding from the state is often a part of the decision making. Not every state legislature rewrites laws at a coach’s request (hi, Georgia!).
Still, politics and money matter to everyone, but the ACC is unique in its approach, and so the biggest answer might simply be philosophy. The league’s top football brands — Clemson and Florida State — have played just one road game outside the Power 5 in the playoff era. Look to the SEC, where Vanderbilt is responsible for the bulk of its road trips outside the Power 5, and Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia Bulldogs and LSU have played just two such games combined.
As one ACC administrator put it, “it’s risky business” playing these games for legitimate football brands, and there’s very little reward even if it all works out well.
Hey, these guys aren’t so bad
In the Pac-12, it was USC‘s dip into the transfer portal that drew the most attention, but there’s a case to be made Arizona may have benefited even more.
The Wildcats were a national punchline for the better part of the past three seasons, finishing 2021 with a 1-11 record. But this offseason, Arizona dipped into the deep end of the transfer portal and added some key players, including QB Jayden de Laura and receiver Jacob Cowing.
The results were felt immediately with an impressive 38-20 win over San Diego State in Saturday’s opener. The passing game dominated, with de Laura throwing four touchdowns, while Cowing hauled in three of them, part of a 152-yard day.
Arizona’s 38 points were the most the team had scored since November 2019, while San Diego State has now allowed 38-plus in two of its last three games after 46 straight holding opponents below that total.
The most college football thing of the week
Greg Schiano made this an impossible choice in Week 1.
On one hand, Schiano reached elite level galaxy brain coaching on Rutgers‘ first series of the game Saturday against Boston College, which the Scarlett Knights played without starting QB Noah Vedral.
Schiano’s QB on first down: Johnny Logan, who’s technically listed as a tight end. (He ran for 4 yards.)
His QB on second down: Gavin Wimsatt. (He handed off. Gain of 3.)
His QB on third down: Evan Simon. (He threw incomplete.)
Add a delay of game, and Rutgers could officially claim that its first drive included more QBs than yards gained.
But that wasn’t the end of the ridiculous (or sublime, depending on your perspective) from this game.
Midway through the first quarter, Wimsatt converted a third-and-5 with a completion to the BC 10-yard line, setting up a first-and-goal. Three plays later, Rutgers punted.
Yes, you read that right.
A 2-yard run was followed by an offensive pass interference flag, a holding call, a false start and a sack. By fourth down, Rutgers set up shop at the BC 43-yard-line, and called in the punter.
Punting from the 43? Eh, it happens. Punting from the 43 because it’s 4th and goal? That’s Rutgers football. pic.twitter.com/VEchjgAQxs
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 3, 2022
The wildest part? It all worked out. BC threw a pick on the next drive, and Rutgers turned the interception into 6 points — the long way.
And lest anyone assume all of this wasn’t perfectly scripted, the Scarlet Knights pulled off a come-from-behind 22-21 win following a 12-play, 96-yard touchdown drive with 2:43 to play. Just like Schiano drew it up.
Big bets and bad beats
The total for Iowa-South Dakota State closed at 42, the lowest total for any game Saturday at the time of kickoff. And perhaps if they’d played 43 overtimes, they might’ve taken a run at that number. Instead, the final score — 7-3 without a touchdown — came up 32 points shy.
On the flip side, the total for North Carolina at Appalachian State was just 56, a number both teams covered on their own. In fact, they actually combined for 62 points in the fourth quarter alone — a tally that, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, was just one point shy of the FBS record for a fourth quarter, set by Navy and North Texas in 2007.
Georgia is good. This isn’t news. But Georgia is particularly good — for bettors, in particular — when it plays a non-conference game vs. a Power 5 foe. With Saturday’s dominant 49-3 win over No. 11 Oregon, the Bulldogs have covered six straight against non-SEC Power 5 teams, winning by an average of 37 points. The Georgia defense has allowed just one touchdown — vs. Michigan with 4:25 to play in a game already in hand — in its last four.
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