In honor of Colorado receiving a fifth down in a win over Missouri in 1990, I present to you three thoughts on SEC football and two other thoughts from outside the conference. Sorry, Missouri fans. Here is this weeks 5th Down:
1. #ORSZN was in full effect on Monday. Or, of course, references the pettiness of college coaches by not showing their hand ahead of gameday via largely bogus depth charts. Nick Saban and Alabama have always been the king of this, at least in terms of the SEC given Jim Harbaugh’s own prowess to get a little creative with his depth chart.
Saban disciple and now Tennessee Volunteer head coach, Jeremy Pruitt made his own mockery of the releasing of a depth chart by listing 10 of his 22 “projected” starters with an “or”.
#Vols have listed co-starters at 10 different positions on their official depth chart for Saturday’s season opener vs. West Virginia.
— Ryan Callahan (@RyanCallahan247) August 27, 2018
And of course, as you know, one of those 10 co-starters was listed at the quarterback position, where Pruitt has redshirt sophomore Jarrett Guarantano marked beside Stanford graduate transfer Keller Chryst. Now, if you’re buying the steaming load of bull manure that Pruitt is selling, then you’ll expect to see both play on Saturday in Charlotte. If you’re a more sensible human-being, which I know is lacking nowadays among Vol Nation (see: Greg Schiano), then you’ll accept the truth that Jesse Simonton of Volquest laid out for you.
Jarrett Guarantano will be Tennessee’s starting quarterback against West Virginia, but I don’t expect Jeremy Pruitt to make any sort announcement later today.
Based on what we’ve seen and heard, I don’t buy the “may play both guys” bit in the opener either.
— Jesse Simonton (@JesseReSimonton) August 27, 2018
Now, whoever starts for the Vols on Saturday and moving forward this season is an important storyline but I don’t think it is the storyline for this team this season. What may end up being far more important for Pruitt in his first year is how his defense performs. Pruitt comes over from the Alabama defensive coordinator position being viewed as some sort of defensive savant. The resume is certainly there after helping Florida State win the final BCS national championship in 2013 and, again, helping Alabama hoist a national title this past January.
All that being said, there is some work to be done. Last season, Tennessee had the worst rushing defense in the Southeastern Conference, allowing 251.3 yards per game on the ground. On the bright side, the Volunteers boasted the conferences best passing defense, only giving up 161.7 yards per game through the air. Now, that low output could simply be attributed to teams focusing on the ground game, demoralizing the Vols that way, opposed to death by the forward pass. Still, it’s something to point to as the unit prepares for Preseason AP All-America first-teamer Will Grier and a West Virginia offense that is more than capable of giving defenses outside of the Big 12 a problem.
The conversation heading into this weekend will be surrounded by who will get the start under-center and whether an offense that ranked 120th in yards per play last year, only ahead of the likes of Illinois, Kansas and Rutgers, in terms of fellow Power 5 mates, can keep up with Grier and a high-powered Mountaineer offense. A good question, but a worthless one if the Vols defensive 11 can’t stop Grier and his friends.
2. It doesn’t matter who starts for Alabama on Saturday night in Orlando against Louisville. Whoever it is is good enough to beat the post-Lamar Jackson Cardinals by three or four touchdowns. Not only are they good enough to do that, but in Jalen Hurts’ case, he’s good enough to get you to the national championship game and close to winning as long as Deshaun Watson isn’t present. And in Tua Tagovailoa’s case, he’s good enough to come in cold in the second half of a national championship and win that sucker.
So, what’s the real storyline? Well, take a gander over at the Crimson Tide’s secondary and you’ll see some dudes who are real green. The Tide have to replace its top six defensive backs from a year ago and start the season against a receiving corp that doesn’t fear them.
Louisville Cardinals wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick gave the Alabama Crimson Tide defense some bulletin board material over the weekend: "Every receiver in our receiving core can, honestly, beat every one of their DBs in one-on-one coverage." #RollTide #CardNation pic.twitter.com/tpfyR3w1K2
— #WVTM13 (@WVTM13) August 14, 2018
Bulletin board material? Sure. The thing is, Fitzpatrick should be confident. Hell, he along with fellow receivers Jaylen Smith and Seth Dawkins are featured on the Louisville Football Media Guide with a championship horse you might’ve heard of. This is one reason. Another is the fact that the trio brings a combined 214 career catches for 3,487 yards and 28 touchdowns into 2018. Jackson is gone from under-center but Jawon “Puma” Pass is considered a much better passer and turned down the Tide for this opportunity in the Derby City.
3. Auburn is probably hoping that this weekends trip to the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta is better than the previous two. The Tigers lost in the SEC title game in December to Georgia only to follow it up with a loss to ‘my’ national champion UCF in the Chick-fil-a Peach Bowl. To add insult to what was already a comatose tiger/eagle, they had to watch their two main rivals duke it out in the same stadium for a national championship. Did I mention that Auburn beat both Georgia and Alabama last year?
This, assuredly, is a massive game for Gus Malzahn and his team but I don’t think it’s all that important. Auburn is going to have opportunities on the road against Top 20 teams in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State ahead of them on the SEC schedule. A win on Saturday does more for Washington, in terms of its hopes of reaching the playoff were there to be a slip-up in a down Pac-12.
The opportunity will still be there for Auburn. Look no further to last fall when a second win over Georgia would’ve put the Plainsman into the playoff as the first two-loss team in the events short history. A loss will cause a Tammy from Clanton Finebaum Show freakout but it doesn’t come close to ending the Tigers shot at its playoff appearance.
4. A few tweets have captured my eye when it comes to College Football scheduling. First, Scott Dochterman, the Iowa Beat Reporter for The Athletic, posted these numbers:
CFB schedule facts:
11 B1G teams play at least 10 Power 5 foes, 12 if counting BYU as P5; 3 play 11
9 B12 teams play 10 P5 foes
8 P12 teams play 10/more P5, 10 if counting BYU
5 ACC teams play 10 P5; Notre Dame plays 10 P5
0 SEC teams play 10 P5 games; Arkansas plays 8 P5
— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) August 20, 2018
Then Eleven Warriors, an Ohio State blog site, posted this:
Ohio State plays just one game against a team outside of the Power 5 this season. The Buckeyes are one of just three teams to play 11 games against Power 5 opponents, joining Northwestern and Purdue.
— Eleven Warriors (@11W) August 27, 2018
This I am not a fan of. Sure, Ohio State isn’t exactly in good graces with the American public but the fact that a team playing in what I consider to be the toughest division in the Big Ten East, is scheduled to play 11 Power 5 programs and not a single team in the SEC plays more than nine is ludicrous.
Yes, there can be an argument made that the Buckeyes did it to themselves. Then again, the Big Ten plays nine conference games, just like the Big 12 and Pac-12, while the ACC and SEC stand idle with their eight-game league games. Outside of those nine games, Ohio State has to schedule three more to get to the required 12. Well, the Big Ten has partially barred its programs from playing FCS schools, meaning there is a smaller pot of teams that the Buckeyes can choose from, this leading to the 2018 scenario where they play 11 Power 5 opponents.
No, I’m not weeping for Ohio State, which is going to boast more talent than any team it faces this season. I’m wailing over the grave injustice that is the state of college football scheduling. Note: When I say ‘wailing’ and ‘grave injustice’, clearly I’m being facetious for those of you who can’t keep up.
Although, it is an issue when we dictate a four-team playoff by comparing resumes. How can the committee be expected to properly compare a resume when there is so much imbalanced in terms of the number of Power 5 opponents played across each conference. If I had my way every Power 5 conference would play nine league games, one Power 5 out of conference, one Group of 5 and one FCS. Why the FCS? A multitude of FCS programs fund their athletic department expenses in these ‘Play-For-Flay’ games. Therefore, forbidding these matchups isn’t in the best interest of college football as a whole.
You think my proposal is stupid. Well, Alabama football overlord Nick Saban thinks the Tide should only be playing Power 5 teams. There is comedy in this, as Alabama only plays nine Power 5 teams. And yes, an FCS is on the schedule.
No, this won’t cure down cycles for certain leagues but it will sure as hell do a better job of comparing teams than how schedules are currently constructed.
5. There are a few people out there, well maybe more than a few, that believe Jim Harbaugh needs to win this year a Michigan. Not to say that Harbaugh hasn’t won in his time in Ann Arbor, Harbaugh is 28-11 in his first three years. Rather, to say the Wolverine boosters and college football media skeptics (Finebaum) need to see a return on investment in the form of a Big Ten Championship and, likely, subsequent College Football Playoff appearance. I agree that this is a cliched ‘put-up-or-shut-up’ year for Harbaugh. But is it really?
Let’s be honest, even if Harbaugh has a losing record this year, the Michigan brass isn’t going to run him. Yes, it’d be nice to see Michigan finish above 3rd in the Big Ten East for the first time under Harbaugh, but is that really going to solve anything? The only way to silence the overfed media hoards is for Harbaugh to win a Big Ten title, and even that won’t be enough.
I believe in Jim Harbaugh’s coaching ability and that eventually, he’ll make it work in Ann Arbor but I don’t think it’s going to be this season. And for me, that’s okay. It’s Year 4 of a program being built, not Year 7 or 8 of the same results. If Harbaugh continues to hover an inch behind expectations then maybe I’ll join the other side of the conversation. Until then, I’ll practice patience.
You can find The 5th Down every week on thegamenashville.com. Listen to Julian on ESPN 102.5 The Game every Saturday from 9-11am on Saturday Tailgate, previewing and breaking down all of the biggest games and storylines across college football. You can also listen to The Julian Council Show podcast every Monday and Thursday on iTunes and SoundCloud. Follow @JulianCouncil on Twitter for updates throughout the college football weekend and week leading up.