Two weeks into the season still leaves a lot of room for change, but the PiRates have noticed a novel theme in the college football season. Most of the first-time head coaches appear to be top-rate this year. Let’s take a look at the top five new hires and what their new teams have done.
Coach: Tom Herman, Houston
Former Position: Offensive coordinator at Ohio State
The Cougars are 2-0 with a win at Louisville. UH has not been this balanced on offense since Bill Yeoman’s veer teams of the 1960’s and 1970’s moved the ball up and down the field. Houston now becomes one of three or four American Athletic Conference teams as a legitimate contender for the Group of 5’s automatic bid to a New Year’s 6 Bowl.
Coach: Chad Morris, SMU
Former Position: Offensive coordinator at Clemson
The Mustangs 1-11 season in 2014 left this program in the same shape it was coming out of the Death Penalty of the 1980’s. Morris immediately brought life back to the program, and SMU competed toe to toe for one half against Baylor and then followed that up with an impressive win over North Texas. Against the same two teams last year, the Mustangs were outscored 88-6. They topped 25 points just once all year, averaging just 11 points per game. SMU has scored 52 points in their first two games this year.
Coach: Philip Montgomery, Tulsa
Former Position: Offensive coordinator at Baylor
Tulsa historically has been a football power at the level just below the big time, frequently peaking with teams capable of competing head to head against big time conference foes. Glenn Dobbs led TU to glory in the early 1940’s, and then he returned as head coach to guide the Golden Hurricane to become the first college team to throw the ball all over the field 40-50 times a game back in the early 1960’s. Adding legendary great Sammy Baugh as an assistant coach made Tulsa the greatest passing team of all time up to that point in 1964. Later, Tulsa produced some power teams under Coach John Cooper and then for a few years under Todd Graham.
Now, it looks like TU has found their next great coach in Montgomery. The Golden Hurricane explosive offense has returned with outbursts of 40+ points in both games so far. Tulsa could very easily return to a bowl this year after barely finishing ahead of SMU last year in the AAC West standings.
Coach: Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh
Former Position: Defensive coordinator at Michigan State
Narduzzi’s personal touch on this team’s defense showed up in force last week when Pitt held Akron to 110 total yards (47 rush, 63 pass), a year after the Zips defeated Pitt 21-10. The Panthers looked about the same offensively as last year, when they won six games and earned a bid to the Armed Forces Bowl. They did not shine on the attack side, but they made no mistakes and controlled the line of scrimmage for most of the afternoon. It will be interesting to see how the Panthers fare at Iowa this week; Iowa edged Pitt 24-20 last year.
Coach: Mike Bobo, Colorado State
Former Position: Offensive coordinator at Georgia
Colorado State lost a great coach when Jim McElwain took the Florida job. So, the Rams did what they had done before–find the best SEC offensive coordinator they could get. Bobo took the bait and left Athens, Georgia for Fort Collins. CSU went head to head with Big Ten contender Minnesota, losing in overtime to fall to 1-1 with a pivotal game against rival Colorado this week at Invesco Field in Denver. Bobo’s offense was criticized at times when he was at Georgia, but the Rams’ offense has been effective on the ground and through the air. Look for CSU to return to a bowl this season.
Week three brings the college football enough important games to stay glued to the sofa in the man-cave all day. Let’s look at the best matchups of the week.
(times given are EDT)
Air Force at Michigan State: 12 Noon on ABC
After taking down Oregon, the Spartans must avoid a letdown against the option offense of the Air Force Academy. MSU should win this game by double digits, but if they rest on their laurels this week, the Falcons could keep this game close. It is worth watching just to see how Sparty defends the option and if their offense comes out flat or ready to play.
Northwestern at Duke: 12:30 PM on ESPN3
Two teams with identical 2-0 records to open the season, and both with two impressive wins, face off in Durham. Duke is now 21-8 in their last 29 games. Northwestern looks like a team with the potential to be a top contender for the Big Ten West title this year, controlling Stanford for four quarters and then easily beating FCS Eastern Illinois last week. Duke is trying to earn a bowl bid for the fourth consecutive season and could be enjoying their best three-year period of football since 1960-61-62. The winner of this game goes from pretender to contender in their respective league.
Auburn at LSU: 3:30 PM on CBS
What happened with Auburn last week? The Tigers looked like a lucky team to escape Jacksonville State with a win. They did not look all that fantastic for half their game against Louisville, and then when Louisville lost to Houston in game two, the win over the Cardinals did not look impressive.
LSU mauled Mississippi State for 20 minutes, before the Bulldogs looked like the better team for the final 40 minutes. It cannot be discounted that the Tigers were at a disadvantage having had their first game cancelled, while State played a game.
The loser of this game will have a lot to answer for. If Auburn wins on the road, the rabid LSU fans will begin to campaign for a new direction, especially if the Bayou Bengals cannot pass the ball. If LSU wins but not impressively and unable to do much but run the ball, the fans might still campaign for change. If LSU wins impressively and shows life in their passing game, then the Auburn fans will begin to wonder why this team is underachieving so.
Georgia Tech at Notre Dame: 3:30 PM on NBC
This game really intrigues us. Brian Kelly’s teams generally control their opponents’ running game and try to slow down the passing game. Only when the other team has the better horses does a Kelly-coached team give up a lot of rushing yards.
Can Georgia Tech’s spread option attack find enough success to win on the road against a Top 10 team? Better yet, can the Yellow Jackets’ defense hold the Irish under 30 points? Even without their best quarterback and tight end, Notre Dame has the talent to continue moving the ball and scoring points. The winner of this game deserves consideration in the Top 5.
Nebraska at Miami: 3:30 PM on ABC or ESPN2 (by region)
Al Golden has a chance to win major Brownie points in the pursuit of keeping his employment in Coral Gables. If the Hurricanes beat Nebraska Saturday, they will be 3-0 for just the second time since 2004, when they were last ranked near the top.
Nebraska’s loss to BYU doesn’t look so bad now that BYU beat Boise State, but the Cornhuskers are a team in transition, and a win on the road in the heat and humidity of South Florida may be asking too much of this team.
California at Texas: 7:30 PM on Fox
This game became a lot more interesting in the past 24 hours, because Texas fired controversial Athletics’ Director Steve Patterson thanks in part to heavy booster complaints. It already was going to be interesting if for no other reason than to see if Cal is a contender or pretender in the Pac-12 North. The Bears might be on the verge of challenging Oregon for division supremacy, and this game along with the primetime game will help solve that riddle.
Florida at Kentucky: 7:30 PM on SEC network/Watchespn
What you were supposed to be looking at when these two teams squared off was a battle for 5th place in the SEC East. Now, who knows? This could be for a top three spot in the division. Kentucky won at South Carolina last week to improve to 2-0. Florida has two wins over lackluster competition, but the Gators have historically started the season 2-0 with wins over mediocre or worse teams. The winner of this game will still be considered an also-ran in the league, but at 3-0, the winner will be halfway to bowl eligibility. You may ask, “when is the last time Kentucky began a season 3-0 with at least one of those wins in conference play?”
The answer is: 1964
Stanford at USC: 8:00 PM on ABC
Stanford did absolutely nothing in their opener against Northwestern and then looked pedestrian last week against Cental Florida. Meanwhile, USC looked like the Trojans of old in blowout wins over Arkansas State and Idaho. This game will reveal whether USC is ready to contend for national honors once again and whether Stanford is an also-ran in the Pac-12.
Ole Miss at Alabama: 9:15 PM on ESPN
This is the one game not to miss this week. Even if you don’t like the SEC, this should be a rock’em, sock’em battle. Alabama’s dreams of having a perfect dream season in 2014 ended in Oxford against the Rebels last year. At the time Ole Miss appeared to be the second best team in the nation and second best team in their state. The Rebels’ offense was too inconsistent, and Ole Miss lost games in the back half of a tough schedule before getting shellacked in the Peach Bowl against TCU.
Alabama has begun the season with so-so wins over Wisconsin and Middle Tennessee. They were very vanilla, and the offense looked stoppable. We’ve seen this before in the past. In almost every national title season, the Crimson Tide began the year relying on smart play, defense, and special teams, and then as the weeks progressed, the offense improved consistently. This is the first game where ‘Bama absolutely must get their offense untracked, for Ole Miss will score points, even on the Tide defense.
The Rebels’ offense is more consistent and just as lethal this year as last. Their defense is not top-rate like ‘Bama’s, but they have enough talent to come up with big plays. If the Alabama quarterback situation does not come up with an improved effort, then the Rebels have a chance to become the top banana in the toughest division in college football.
BYU at UCLA: 10:30 PM on Fox Sports1
UCLA might be in a battle with USC just like the good ole days when the Bruins and Trojans faced off in November to decide the Rose Bowl participant. This year, that game could decide more, like the Pac-12 South representative in the conference title game, and one of the four playoff spots.
Can UCLA get to the promised land with a true freshman quarterback? Josh Rosen plays like anything but a true freshman. Coach Jim Mora, Jr. can protect him and not force him to win games by himself. The Bruin defense is improved, and the offense does not rely solely on the passing game, so yes, this team can make it to the USC game with a chance to win the division.
About BYU, the Cougars cannot be considered “under the radar” after beginning the season with wins over Nebraska and Boise St. Even without their top quarterback, BYU moved the ball, while their defense looked strong at times in both wins.
The winner of this game will be one of the better 3-0 teams in the nation and yet not receive the respect due them.
This Week’s PiRate Ratings
|39||North Carolina St.||109.2||111.0||108.2||109.5|
|66||San Diego St.||95.9||101.1||97.2||98.1|
|90||San Jose St.||90.9||94.5||90.4||91.9|
|126||New Mexico St.||73.3||74.2||73.0||73.5|
PiRate Ratings By Conference
|American Athletic Conference|
|Atlantic Coast Conference|
|North Carolina St.||0-0||2-0||109.2||111.0||108.2||109.5|
|Big 12 Conference|
|Big 12 Averages||110.2||104.3||109.8||108.1|
|Big Ten Conference|
|Big Ten Averages||108.4||106.6||108.1||107.7|
|Mountain West Conference|
|San Diego St.||0-0||1-1||95.9||101.1||97.2||98.1|
|San Jose St.||0-1||1-1||90.9||94.5||90.4||91.9|
|New Mexico St.||0-1||0-2||73.3||74.2||73.0||73.5|
|Sun Belt Averages||81.1||83.5||81.7||82.1|
PiRate Conference Ratings
|PiRate Ratings By Conference|
Power 5 Conferences Bottom 10
Group of 5 Contenders For Automatic New Year’s Six Bowl Bid
FCS Top 10
|2||South Dakota St.||94.1|
|3||North Dakota St.||92.2|
This Week’s PiRate Ratings Spreads
|Thursday, September 17|
|Friday, September 18||PiRate||Mean||Bias
|Boston College||Florida St.||-10.2||-5.3||-10.2|
|Arizona St.||New Mexico||27.7||20.6||27.0|
|Saturday, September 19||PiRate||Mean||Bias|
|Michigan St.||Air Force||31.2||19.5||32.1|
|Eastern Michigan||Ball St.||-7.0||1.6||-7.5|
|Kansas St.||Louisiana Tech||13.2||1.4||10.8|
|Ohio St.||Northern Illinois||48.6||35.6||49.7|
|Oklahoma St.||Texas-San Antonio||35.6||31.9||34.6|
|Notre Dame||Georgia Tech||2.5||7.1||3.2|
|Texas St.||Southern Miss.||1.1||6.2||2.6|
|Old Dominion||North Carolina St.||-25.9||-20.1||-25.8|
|Colorado (N)||Colorado St.||10.0||8.0||11.2|
|New Mexico St.||UTEP||-6.8||-9.2||-7.1|
|San Diego St.||South Alabama||24.5||21.9||24.3|
|Oregon St.||San Jose St.||4.2||-2.0||3.4|
FBS vs. FCS Games–PiRate Rating Only
|FBS vs. FCS||Week 3||PiRate|
|Boise St.||Idaho St.||39|
|Ohio U||Southeast Louisiana||21|
|Virginia||William & Mary||27|
|Mississippi St.||Northwestern St.||42|
|Western Michigan||Murray St.||31|
|Arkansas St.||Missouri St.||20|