Saturday Football: Georgia QB situation, B1G losers and Clemson problems
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Good morning and happy Wednesday! We’re gearing up for a huge weekend of college football, with a top-five showdown in the ACC between Clemson and Notre Dame and a top-10 showdown in the SEC between Georgia and Florida. Oh, and there are two other matchups of ranked teams on the schedule too — BYU at Boise State and Michigan at Indiana.
It should be a busy week of important games, but before we get there, we have some important stories to talk about. First, we’ll discuss Georgia’s increasingly unstable QB situation. Then, we’ll talk about a handful of winless Big Ten teams and why they need to turn things around. Finally, we’ll take a look at Clemson and wonder if we should be concerned. Let’s get started!
GEORGIA QB SITUATION
Stetson Bennett IV has struggled in recent weeks. Is he still Georgia’s best option at quarterback?
Georgia QB Stetson Bennett IV was a feel-good story to start the 2020 season. The former walk-on took over in Week 1 and led the Bulldogs to impressive wins over Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee. Then, a loss to Alabama happened, and ever since then, the wheels have been falling off the Mailman’s bandwagon. Now, many are wondering if the Dawgs can achieve their lofty goals under a guy no one expected to be in this position heading into the 2020 season.
So, what are people saying about Bennett and the other Georgia quarterbacks? Is it time for coach Kirby Smart to make a change? Here’s the latest on the Georgia QB situation as the Dawgs prepare for a huge SEC East showdown on Saturday in Jacksonville against rival Florida:
- ESPN’s David Pollack made headlines with comments this week. The former Bulldog opined that Georgia was close to being a national title contender. The missing piece? A QB like Ohio State’s Justin Fields, who has been nearly flawless through two games this year. If only the Bulldogs had once had Fields in Athens. Oh, wait … they did. “It’s just Georgia’s struggling offensively and we’ve done this song and dance for several years and it seems like they’re still in the same spot,” Pollack said.
- Pollack isn’t the only one who thinks the Dawgs need more at QB. After Bennett’s struggles in a 14-3 win over Kentucky on Saturday, many Georgia fans took to Twitter to wonder what it would take for Smart to make a change. SEC Network analyst Gene Chizik is also concerned about Georgia’s quarterback play, noting the 5 interceptions Bennett has thrown the past two games.
- So, what would it take for Smart to make a change against Florida? Saturday Down South’s Connor O’Gara wrote an interesting that might haunt Georgia fans. O’Gara writes that it might take a similar situation to the Georgia-Alabama title game for the Bulldogs to make a switch — as in, that time when Tua Tagovailoa replaced Jalen Hurts at halftime and led a comeback for the ages. Halloween might be over, but that thought will send shivers down the spines of Dawg supporters. Fellow SDS writer Sydney Hunte worries that Bennett might have maxed out his abilities already, and if he has, a switch needs to be made.
Saturday’s Cocktail Party is sure to be exciting. Heck, one Georgia politician even sent a mass email to other members of the Georgia legislature looking for tickets. It’ll be a high-pressure situation for Bennett. Can he lead the Bulldogs to victory, or will we see a QB change in Jacksonville?
TOP 2021 RECRUITING CLASSES
The 2021 recruiting cycle is going to be remembered as one of the strangest in history. Due to the pandemic, players aren’t currently allowed to take official visits to campuses, and that’s going to continue through the end of the year. But, that hasn’t stopped some of the nation’s top prospects from making their decisions.
So, which teams are dominating the 2021 recruiting cycle? Here’s a look at the top 10 recruiting classes as things stand on Tuesday evening (via the 247Sports composite rankings):
- Alabama — 22 players, 5 5-stars, 12 4-stars
- Ohio State — 20 players, 4 5-stars, 12 4-stars
- Oregon — 23 players, 1 5-star, 15 4-stars
- LSU — 21 players, 1 5-star, 14 4-stars
- Clemson — 17 players, 1 5-star, 14 4-stars
- Georgia — 18 players, 2 5-stars, 10 4-stars
- USC — 22 players, 0 5-stars, 15 4-stars
- Florida — 25 players, 1 5-star, 13 4-stars
- Michigan — 21 players, 1 5-star, 11 4-stars
- Tennessee — 26 players, 1 5 star, 11 4-stars
We’ve seen a number of top players commit over the last month. Will that trend continue in November? We’ll update the recruiting rankings again in the first Wednesday newsletter of December.
- The LSU Tigers were perhaps the best team ever in 2019. This year, they very much aren’t. The title hangover season has been brutal thus far, with the Tigers sporting a 2-3 record halfway through the season. Is this just a minor, one-year slump, or a sign of rougher times to come? Saturday Down South’s Matt Hinton answers that question and more in his weekly Monday Down South column.
- The Tagovailoa family had the best weekend ever. First the family went to Maryland, where Taulia Tagovailoa led the Terrapins to a thrilling 45-44 overtime win over Minnesota. Then, on Sunday, the family was in Miami, where Tua Tagovailoa led the Miami Dolphins to a 28-17 win over the Los Angeles Rams in his first NFL start. ESPN’s Heather Dinich and Cameron Wolfe broke down the Tagovailoas’ incredible four-day, three-state journey to see both their sons win.
- Which big-name coaching jobs will become available this year? Even as schools tighten their budgets amid the pandemic, there will likely be some changes made. Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter names the candidates that would fit best at Texas, Auburn, Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Michigan should those programs fire their current coaches.
- DeVonta Smith has been overshadowed during his Alabama career. Even after catching the game-winning touchdown pass against Georgia in the title game as a freshman, the now-senior has been overshadowed by guys like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle. Yet, he continues to put up record numbers. ESPN’s Alex Scarborough profiled Smith and writes that he’s overlooked no more.
Four B1G teams are still winless. Which team(s) will finally get a 2020 victory?
You know 2020 is bizarre when you look at the B1G standings and see which teams are still searching for their first win of the season. Penn State, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois — four teams that were bowl eligible a season ago — are all 0-2 through the first two weeks of the season.
Penn State, Minnesota and Iowa were a combined 32-7 a year ago, with all three hitting the double-digit win total. It’s pretty safe to say that nobody would’ve expected that any of those squads would be have a bagel in the win column after two games, but here we are. All four teams need a win this weekend. Which are the mostly likely to get it in Week 3?
- Penn State probably has the best chance. The Nittany Lions get Maryland at a great time. Sure, the Terrapins are coming off a thrilling 45-44 win over Minnesota last week, but Penn State has a major advantage in the talent department heading into this game. Plus, QB Sean Clifford is as motivated as ever after the 0-2 start, saying if his teammates don’t feel the pressure to start winning now, he doesn’t want them in a PSU uniform. With six games left on the schedule, there’s still time for the Nittany Lions to have a successful season, as Saturday Tradition’s Thomas Schlarp writes. But they need to beat the Terps this weekend to get the ball rolling.
- Iowa has been so, so close. Five points. That’s all that has separated Iowa from a 2-0 start. The Hawkeyes (literally) fumbled away a win against Purdue in Week 1 and blew a 17-0 advantage against Northwestern last weekend. Kirk Ferentz said in his weekly press conference that the winless start “doesn’t feel good,” but that the Hawkeyes can still have a strong season. This week, Iowa takes on a Michigan State team that looked really impressive in a 27-24 win over Michigan. This game was already an interesting matchup, but Iowa is in a little more trouble without WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who was reportedly arrested for an OWI charge hours after the Hawkeyes’ loss on Saturday.
- Someone’s winless season will end… hopefully. Two winless teams will take the field Saturday when Minnesota takes on Illinois. Assuming there’s no COVID-19 related cancellation, one of those teams will have to win the game. Neither the Gophers nor the Illini have looked particularly good this season. Both teams are horrendous defending the pass, allowing 309.5 yards per game through the air, tied for last in the B1G. Illinois head coach Lovie Smith didn’t call Saturday a “must win,” but said it’s a game his team “needs to win.” Meanwhile, Gophers’ leader P.J. Fleck said the focus right now is just getting better and allowing young guys to see more playing time.
- ESPN’s FPI predicts the winners. Let’s have a look at how ESPN’s FPI is predicting these games, shall we? Minnesota has a 53.1% chance to defeat Illinois. Penn State has an incredibly high chance to beat Maryland, coming in at 97.1%. Iowa is also a heavy favorite against Michigan State, with a 76.6% chance to get win No. 1. But, simulations can be wrong, of course.
By the time the weekend comes to an end, at least one team will have its first win and another will remain winless. That much we know. And as important as Saturday is for Minnesota and Illinois, it’s even more significant for Penn State and Iowa. Things could really go south in a hurry if those two teams start the year 0-3.
JUST FOR FUN
The MAC returns tonight with a full slate of Wednesday night MACtion! All 12 teams will be playing tonight, which will certainly make our midweek evenings more exciting from now on. So, for today’s quiz, we’ll give you the name of a city and you match it to the MAC school that calls that city home. Here we go:
- Mount Pleasant
- A: Northern Illinois
- B: Western Michigan
- C: Miami (Ohio)
- D: Eastern Michigan
- E: Ohio
- F: Ball State
- G: Central Michigan
Scroll down to see the answers to today’s quiz.
Clemson barely beat Boston College last week. Should we be concerned about the Tigers against Notre Dame?
Who knew Trevor Lawrence was such an important part of the Clemson defense? We’re kidding, of course, but many fans and analysts have written Clemson’s struggles in a 34-28 win over Boston College as not indicative of the team at full strength because Lawrence was out due to ACC COVID-19 protocols. However, there were some serious flaws exposed against the Eagles.
Now, the No. 1 Tigers are preparing to head to Notre Dame to take on the No. 4 Fighting Irish in one of the biggest games of the season. So, how concerned should we be about Dabo Swinney’s squad? Let’s take a look at some of the chatter:
- If you ask Swinney himself, there’s no reason for concern at all. After the win, he was spotted dancing in the locker room with his players. That came a week after Swinney got a bit testy while speaking with members of the press following Clemson’s 47-21 win over Syracuse. “I just want to make sure I’m at the right press conference here. We did win the game, I think. Am I in the right spot?” Swinney retorted after being asked about Clemson’s lack of energy to start the game.
- It’s easy to say the Tigers miss Lawrence, but that’s not the full story. 5-star freshman QB D.J. Uiagalelei stepped in and did a tremendous job, throwing for 342 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions and adding another score as a runner. He looks like he’s the real deal, too. One analyst even went as far as to predict that Uiagalelei will be better than Lawrence. We won’t go that far just yet, but look for his star to continue to rise this week. (Oh, and Uiagalelei hilariously shared that he blocks his dad on Twitter.) Uiagalelei will also have plenty of help on the sidelines this weekend, as Lawrence is traveling to South Bend and will be acting as a coach, per Swinney.
- The defense might be the Tigers’ biggest concern this week. The list of injuries on that side of the ball is long, headlined by star LB James Skalski and DL Tyler Davis. Swinney provided an update on the Tigers’ “unbelievable” rash of injuries recently. Missing Skalski and Davis will really hurt against the Irish, who boast the ACC’s No. 2 rushing offense.
At the end of the day, there is some truth to Swinney’s constant complaining about being disrespected. The Tigers are a perfect 7-0, and that has to be worth something. No, it hasn’t been pretty, but those predicting a Clemson demise are far from accurate. This will be Clemson’s toughest test of the season. Leave South Bend with a win, and perhaps even Swinney will agree that his No. 1-ranked team is getting the love it deserves.
Here are the answers to today’s MAC matching quiz:
- 1D: Eastern Michigan-Ypsilanti
- 2F: Ball State-Muncie
- 3B: Western Michigan-Kalamazoo
- 4E: Ohio-Athens
- 5G: Central Michigan-Mount Pleasant
- 6A: Northern Illinois-DeKalb
- 7C: Miami (Ohio)-Oxford
Enjoy tonight’s MACtion, folks!
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“He’s got a great personality. He’s got a competitive spirit about him. He did the same thing with Derek Mason and Vandy, was it last year or the year before when it was yelling back and forth kind of thing, so he gets into that competitive mode. … That was uncalled for, you’re a leader of men. You cannot be the guy we’re trying to control. The players don’t need to be controlling the coach, that’s not what we’re looking for.”
– ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit called out Florida coach Dan Mullen for his role in escalating the brawl between the Gators and the Missouri Tigers before halftime of Saturday’s game. Mullen received a $25,000 fine.
TWEET OF THE DAY
Oklahoma State used a devious method to mess with the Texas Longhorns’ kicker during Saturday’s game, flashing solid yellow vertical lines on the video board during a field-goal attempt. Cameron Dicker ended up making the kick anyway. Perhaps the football gods were angry, as the Cowboys ended up losing the game (following a few controversial calls).