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College Football Today – Takeaways and Insights from Week 1

Week 1 occasionally delivers some really great football, an epic battle between two teams destined for a playoff run.

It also delivers terrible football as two teams still shaking off the rust of a long off-season engage in a battle of attrition.

But the lunch table on Saturday gave us something completely different. It was college football’s Schrodinger cat—great and terrible, beautiful and terrible, living and dead all at once.

On the broad plains of Iowa, the Hawkeyes pulled off such a gloriously ugly win that the only real complaint is that the 7-3 final score was marred by a late safety that crushed even the now-victory Iowa fans left behind. It was a game that deservedly ended 5-3. To have something different would be like Charles Dickens writing A Tale of Two Cities and then naming it A Book About France.

On the rolling hills of western North Carolina, the Tar Heels and Appalachian State packed nearly nine full Iowa games in the fourth quarter alone. App State took a 21-7 lead; UNC roared back, leading 41-21 into the fourth quarter, and that’s when the fun started.

The Mountaineers scored on back-to-back rides. UNC replied. Two more App State touchdowns followed before the Tar Heels caught 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 the entire game between Iowa and South Dakota State happened in less than 3 minutes of action at App State. It’s possible that space-time ceased to exist for a while.

The Tar Heels appeared to have escaped when Chase Brice knocked down their receiver on a 2-point try with 31 seconds left, but North Carolina went and did the dumbest thing it could do in the episode. It scored again. Bringing UNC’s defense to the field was like setting off fireworks in your closet. Indeed, Brice hit Kaedin Robinson for a 26-yard TD pass with 9 seconds remaining to give App State a final 2-point effort to equalize.

The ending was disappointing. Brice was attacked in a scramble at 1 – or maybe he just collapsed from exhaustion.

Overall, Brice and Maye threw for a total of 10 touchdowns, each exceeding 350 yards through the air. Or, as they say in Iowa, a full season of the Big Ten.

Iowa and South Dakota State combined for 16 first downs and 21 completed passes. Or, as they say in North Carolina, the things you missed while waiting in line for a beer.

It was wonderful. It was excruciating. It was dizzying and terrifying and electrifying. It defied any explanation.

It was just the right start to Week 1 of the college football season.

Maybe you’ll just pay the extra next time

This season, the ACC plays 10 away games against teams outside of the Power 5. No other Power 5 league plays more than three. And yet this is not new. By the end of the year, the ACC will have played almost as many such games (64) as the Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC combined (78) in the playoff era.

The first three of those road trips came on Friday, when Virginia Tech got stuck in an elevator for the first time, then shot itself in the foot and lost 20-17 to Old Dominion on head coach Brent Pry’s debut.

On Saturday, North Carolina and NC State were both inches away from suffering the same fate on the road against American Athletic Conference opponents.

UNC needed about 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 where they had the ball at the 1 yard line with a chance to go 14 up, then watched ECU score a late goal, missed a PAT, made a stop and then drove within range of the field goal and missed another kick. NC State held on to the 21-20 win, which while an overall win, certainly deflated much of the preseason hype the team had been getting as a possible dark horse playoff contender.

Overall, the ACC has lost 20 road games outside of the Power 5 in the playoff era — three more than the SEC, Big Ten, and Big 12 combined — and certainly does little to improve the reputation of a league that’s badly needed by some good vibes

So why is the league going on?

The first answer is money. The promise of a home game for Group of Five opponents saves ACC teams the cost of a one-time visit to their stadium, although there’s a good argument that the cost of an L in one of those games is even higher. The ACC essentially chose to sit on an airplane with a suitcase on your lap rather than pay for baggage screening.

The second answer is politics, and while North Carolina or NC State legislatures haven’t directly coerced them to visit their little school neighbors, critical state funding is often a part of the decision-making process. Not every state legislature rewrites laws at the request of a coach (hi, Georgia!).

Still, politics and money matter to everyone, but the ACC is unique in its approach and so the biggest answer might just be philosophy. The league’s top football brands — Clemson and Florida State — only played one away game outside of the Power 5 in the playoff era. Look at the SEC, where Vanderbilt accounts for the majority of his road trips outside of the Power 5, and Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia Bulldogs and LSU have only played two such games together.

As one ACC administrator put it, “It’s a risky business” playing these games for legitimate football brands, and there’s very little reward even when things go well.

Hey, these guys aren’t that bad

In the Pac-12, it was USC’s dive into the transfer portal that drew the most attention, but there’s a case that needs to be made, Arizona could have benefited even more.

The Wildcats have been a national punchline for most of the past three seasons, ending 2021 with a 1-11 record. But this offseason, Arizona dove into the deep end of the transfer portal, adding some key players including QB Jayden de Laura and receiver Jacob Cowing.

The results were immediate 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 clinched three of them, part of a 152-yard day.

Arizona’s 38 points was the most the team had scored since November 2019, while San Diego State has now conceded more than 38 points in two of its last three games after keeping 46 consecutive opponents under that total.

College football thing of the week

Greg Schiano made this an impossible choice in Week 1.

On the one hand, Schiano achieved elite-level Galaxy Brain Coaching in Rutgers’ first series of Saturday’s game against Boston College, which the Scarlett Knights played without a start from QB Noah Vedral.

Schiano’s QB on first down: Johnny Logan, who is technically listed as a tight end. (He ran 4 yards.)

His QB on Second Down: Gavin Wimsatt. (He resigned. Gain of 3.)

His QB in third place: Evan Simon. (He threw incomplete.)

Add a game lag, and Rutgers could officially claim his first drive included more QBs than yards gained.

But that wasn’t the end of the ridiculous (or sublime, depending on your perspective) of this game.

Midway through the first quarter, Wimsatt converted a third-and-5 with a close at BC’s 10-yard line and set up a first-and-goal. Three games later Rutgers punted.

Yes, you read it right.

A 2-yard run was followed by an offensive pass interference flag, a holding call, a false start, and a sack. On the fourth down, Rutgers lined up a deal at BC’s 43-yard line and called the punter.

The wildest part? Everything worked out. BC threw a pickaxe on the next drive, and Rutgers converted the interception to 6 points – the long way.

And lest anyone assume all of this wasn’t perfectly planned, the Scarlet Knights clinched a 22-21 win after a 12-play, 96-yard touchdown drive with 2:43 to play. Just like Schiano designed it.

Big bets and bad beats

The total for Iowa-South Dakota State closed at 42, the lowest total for a game Saturday at the time of kickoff. And if they had played 43 overtime, they might have reached that number. Instead, the final result – 7:3 without a touchdown – was 32 points behind.

On the other hand, the total for North Carolina at Appalachian State was just 56, a number both teams contested alone. In fact, they scored a combined 62 points in the fourth quarter alone — a tally that, according to research from ESPN Stats & Information, was just one point below the FBS record for a fourth quarter set by the Navy and North Texas in 2007.

Georgia is good. This is not news. But Georgia is especially good – especially for bettors – when playing a non-conference game against a Power 5 opponent. In Saturday’s dominant 49-3 win over No. 11 Oregon, the Bulldogs have played six straight non-SEC Power 5 teams and won by a 37-point average. The Georgia defense has conceded just one touchdown — beating Michigan by 4:25 to play in a game already in progress — in the last four.

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