Since watching the conclusion of the LSU-Clemson national championship in January, I have watched parts of two college football games. And both have included FCS squad Central Arkansas. Tack that weird informational nugget onto what has been a year in sports like no other. The only FCS teams I watched growing up were my home-state Maine Black Bears, and occasionally the dynastic North Dakota State in the championship game. Yet I’ve watched Central Arkansas, a team that has never made it past the 2nd round of the FCS playoffs, twice in a span of five days.
The sports drought was real.
But, this weekend, we are kind of, almost all the way back. Although this season will lack some top teams and playoff contenders, my recent watching habits indicate that I would gladly watch just about any college football right now. And this Saturday, barring any late postponements, we have 6 full clashes occuring on the gridirion at the FBS level. Although there may be no national title contenders in action this weekend, it’s still a full day of college football. So, if you’re starved for college sports like myself, you’ll at minimum have these games on in the background of your primary Saturday quarantine activities. Might as well know what you’re watching.
A Primetime Quarterback Battle
While we may have to wait another week or two to see some of the popular Heisman candidates take the field, don’t assume there’s a lack of QB talent taking the field this weekend. One of Saturday’s primetime kick-offs slates Brady White and the Memphis Tigers against Layne Hatcher and the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Brady White is absolutely a top-10 quarterback in the country in my opinion, while Hatcher put up a very impressive season in his debut as a starter last year.
Brady White led an explosive Memphis offense last season that seemed to fly under the radar for most of the year. In the Cotton Bowl against Penn State, despite an eventual loss, White torched the Nittany Lions for 454 yards and led Memphis to 39 points, eleven more then Penn State had allowed all season in any one game. He’s back under center, and after a 4,000 yard, 33-touchdown season, I’d rank White inside my Top 10 quarterbacks, and likely as the best Group-of-5 signal-caller entering the 2020 season.
Meanwhile, Hatcher has been very impressive in his own right. After a year at Alabama, Hatcher transferred and started as a redshirt freshman with the Red Wolves. There he tossed 27 touchdowns and over 2900 yards in just ten games. Outside of his first start, a road loss to #3 Georgia, Hatcher threw at least two touchdowns in every game, notching at least four scoring passes in four different contests. He punctuated his season witha 393-yard, four-touchdown performance in the Camellia Bowl. If the Big 10 does not play this season, Hatcher will return as the #1 quarterback in passing efficiency (#3 behind Justin Fields and Tanner Morgan if the B1G season is played). He’s a special talent with likely another couple of college seasons ahead of him. There’s no Power-5 clash this weekend, but if there’s one game you want to watch, make it this one, because this is a pretty sweet QB duel to start off the season.
Can Army Rally Back Into Relevance?
Things were looking bright for Army – a two-season stretch saw the Black Knights go 21-5 with two bowl game victories, with one of those losses an overtime duel with the Oklahoma Sooners. Throw in their 8-5 season in 2016, and it was three straight years of 8+ wins for Army, a stretch they hadn’t matched since 1948-1950. They cracked the top 25, rising to #19, which was their first time in the poll since 1996. When their 2019 campaign started with a win and an overtime loss at Michigan, Army seemed in line for another big year. However, the Black Knights regressed in brutal fashion, fading to 5-8, ending their season with a blowout loss to Navy, ending a three-game winning streak over the Midshipmen.
There was some bad fortune involved in Army’s tailspin last season, as they lost five straight games, with three of the defeats by one possession, and none by more than nine points. When their offense was rolling, their defense couldn’t get a stop, such as in their 42-33 defeat to Tulane, or 34-29 loss to San Jose State. When the defense stiffened, the offense looked like a limp noodle, scorinng a combined 21 points in losses to Western Kentucky and Air Force.
My belief is that Jeff Monken is too good a head coach to let that type of season define what has ultimately been a successful tenure with the Black Knights. Jabari Laws is likely to take the reigns under center, and he looked good in his brief showings last year, going 16-20 for 311 yards. He also averaged 6.4 yards per carry on the ground as Army’s fourth-leading rusher. He’l be a key to Army having a resurgent year in the Covid-shortened season.
Army kicks off their season on Saturday against Middle Tennessee at 1:30. It’ll be the first clash of the day involving both FBS teams. The Blue Raiders saw a four-year bowl game streak come to an end last season, but they also haven’t put up 10 wins in a season since 2009. I like Army to come out and make as much of a statement as they can in their home opener.
Is SMU a NY6 Contender?
SMU, led by quarterback Shane Buechele, may have one of the most lethal offenses in the country. The Mustangs soared to a 10-3 record last season, their first 10-win campaign since 1984. They start their 2020 season with a battle against Texas State. The Bobcats haven’t had a winning season since 2014, and they finished 3-9 last season, but Saturday’s game isn’t just about the result for the Mustangs. SMU is a darkhorse contender for the Group of 5’s guaranteed berth in a New Year’s 6 bowl game, and this game, albeit not against the stiffest of competition, could give us an idea of how legitimate those lofty hopes may be.
SMU averaged 41.8 points per game last year, ranking 7th in the country, but their defense struggled, allowing over 33 points per contest. Buechele threw for nearly 4000 yards and 34 touchdowns, and he returns to lead the Mustangs into battle this season. He will need to help SMU navigate a tricky AAC, which boasts UCF, Memphis, and Cincinnati – all dangerous programs with New Year’s 6 aspirations. The Mustangs will need to be firing on all cylinders to escape that conference with one loss or less, so it’s important for them to get off to the right start on Saturday.