Saturday Football: JT Daniels time, James Franklin's hot seat and upset alert
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Good morning and happy Friday! We’re heading down the stretch run of the 2020 season, and many teams are gearing up for their annual rivalry games. This weekend, we have three matchups of ranked teams and some other important action around the country.
In today’s newsletter, we’ll discuss Georgia making a switch to JT Daniels at quarterback. Then, we’ll dive into James Franklin’s hot seat at Penn State. Finally, we’ll put a few top-25 teams on upset alert. Let’s get started, shall we?
Georgia is reportedly making a QB change this week. Can JT Daniels spark the Bulldogs’ offense?
The Georgia Bulldogs were last seen on the field on Nov. 7, losing 44-28 to SEC East rival Florida. That loss likely cost the Dawgs a chance to go to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Then, last weekend, a game against Mizzou was postponed.
Now, as the Bulldogs prepare for a game against a struggling Mississippi State squad, they’re making a change to try to jumpstart their offense. Per a report, JT Daniels — the former 5-star recruit who transferred from USC — is getting the start on Saturday. So, what should we look for? Here’s what’s being said about Daniels:
- Daniels has been getting ready for this moment for a couple of weeks. Earlier this year, he took longer than expected to be cleared for full contact after a season-ending injury at USC last year. coach Kirby Smart discussed what Daniels has been doing at practice lately. He also said Daniels, Stetson Bennett IV (who has been banged up) and D’Wan Mathis have all done good things this week. He added that he’s been pleased with Daniels’ growth.
- What does Daniels bring to the Georgia offense this weekend? Well, for starters, this highlight reel from his time at USC showcases his plentiful talent. Saturday Down South’s Sydney Hunte predicts Daniels will throw for 350 yards in his first start.
- Is Daniels the right guy to take the Dawgs to the next level? Marc Weiszer of OnlineAthens.com wonders if Georgia is ready for a fully unleashed Daniels and what that means for the offense. Sports Illustrated’s Evan Crowell says Daniels will need to be really impressive these next few games in order to keep his job in 2021 when star freshman Brock Vandagriff arrives on campus.
Bennett and Mathis have struggled mightily in recent weeks, so it makes sense to see what Daniels can do. Mississippi State’s defense is decent, so it won’t be a cakewalk for the former USC standout. Will he lock down the job for the rest of the year? We’ll find out on Saturday night!
As things stand on Thursday evening, a total of 15 FBS games have been either postponed or canceled for this weekend. That’s a lot of games, obviously, but there are still some interesting matchups remaining on the schedule, including three matchups of ranked teams.
So, who is favored to win these big-time games? Will we see any major upsets during this weekend’s action? Here’s a look at some of the key lines for this weekend’s games:
- No. 9 Indiana at No. 3 Ohio State (-20.5)
- Appalachian State at No. 15 Coastal Carolina (-4.5)
- No. 4 Clemson (-35.5) at Florida State
- No. 6 Florida (-31.5) at Vanderbilt
- North Alabama at No. 8 BYU (-47.5)
- No. 7 Cincinnati (-6) at UCF
- No. 10 Wisconsin (-7) at No. 19 Northwestern
- UCLA at No. 11 Oregon (-13.5)
- Kansas State at No. 17 Iowa State (-11)
- Kentucky at No. 1 Alabama (-30)
- Tennessee at No. 23 Auburn (-10.5)
- No. 14 Oklahoma State at No. 18 Oklahoma (-7)
- No. 21 Liberty at NC State (-3.5)
- Mississippi State at No. 13 Georgia (-24.5)
- No. 20 USC (-3) at Utah
Can Liberty beat yet another ACC team on the road as an underdog? Will the top teams continue to win in blowout fashion? We’ll find out as this weekend’s games get underway!
- Florida State has been in a steady decline in recent years. Ever since Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M, the Seminoles haven’t been able to dig themselves out of their current hole. ESPN’s Andrea Adelson and David M. Hale took a look at the past six years of Florida State’s decline.
- There are some great programs across the Midwest this year. From Marshall to Northwestern, from Ohio State to Indiana, the Midwest is home to some resurgent and elite programs. Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde and Ross Dellenger are traveling across the region and profiling the top teams from each state. Check out their interesting series here.
- Jim Harbaugh continues to take a lot of heat for Michigan’s struggles. But, should we have seen this coming long before the Wolverines’ 2020 implosion? Banner Society’s broke down when exactly they realized the Harbaugh era wasn’t working.
- The Big Ten has a Heisman candidate in Ohio State QB Justin Fields. Behind him, though, the conference has some question marks at the quarterback position. At the halfway point of the Big Ten season, Saturday Tradition’s Ryan O’Gara ranked each team’s quarterbacks.
JAMES FRANKLIN’S HOT SEAT
Penn State’s 0-4 start has been a major disappointment. Will James Franklin still be the coach in 2021?
Penn State has been an abject disaster this year. Through four games, the Nittany Lions are 0-4, with losses to Indiana, Ohio State, Maryland and Nebraska. The defense has given up at least 30 points in every game and now the Nittany Lions are exploring a QB change, too.
As the Nittany Lions prepare for a game against Iowa this weekend, looking to avoid an 0-5 start to the season, coach James Franklin’s name has been in plenty of headlines. Will he still be at Penn State in 2021? Let’s take a look at some of the stories surrounding the Penn State coach:
- These rumors are making it tough to prepare for the Iowa game. However, Franklin is trying to stay positive even as fans flood his mentions with negativity. He said this week that he believes some good will come from the 0-4 start. Franklin did say that his Sunday check-ins with recruits have gotten more difficult, but he’s being honest with them. Meanwhile, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t taking the game for granted. He said Penn State is a better team than their 0-4 record indicates.
- There’s plenty of speculation Franklin could leave or be fired. One school continues to be mentioned in connection with the Penn State coach — USC. Even though the Trojans are 2-0 under coach Clay Helton, many speculate USC needs a change. AP writer Ralph D. Russo said Franklin could benefit from a change of scenery. Not everyone thinks Franklin is a fit in Los Angeles, though. Fansided’s Alicia de Artola writes that USC does need a new coach, but Franklin isn’t right for the job.
- Could Franklin be interested in a return to the SEC? He had more success at Vanderbilt than most coaches, and the Commodores could part ways with Derek Mason after this season. South Carolina currently has an opening after firing Will Muschamp. SEC Network analyst Jordan Rodgers, who played for Franklin at Vanderbilt, says his former coach could be a good fit for the Gamecocks.
After this weekend, Penn State’s schedule gets easier. The final three games are at Michigan, at Rutgers and vs. Michigan State. Still, a loss this weekend to Iowa would ensure a losing regular-season record. If that happens, the heat around Franklin’s job will only continue to rise. We’ll see what happens this weekend!
JUST FOR FUN
Now that most conferences have a few games under their belts, let’s dive into the offensive explosion across the FBS. As things stand entering this weekend, nine FBS schools are currently averaging at least 45 points per game. For today’s quiz, can you name those nine schools? Bonus points if you can name the two programs averaging more than 50 points per game.
Scroll down for the answers to today’s quiz.
Several games have been canceled this weekend, but good matchups remain. Who is on upset alert?
As we write this on Thursday night, there have been 15 FBS games postponed or canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are still some exciting matchups, including three games between ranked squads. That means at least three ranked teams will lose this week.
Will any other ranked squads lose in upset fashion over the next couple of days? Let’s take a look at four teams that need to play their best to avoid losing:
- Let’s start with the No. 20 USC Trojans, who travel to Utah. The Utes are an absolute wildcard this weekend, as they have yet to play a game due to COVID complications in their program. Meanwhile, USC is far from perfect. The Trojans are 2-0, but have needed late escapes to beat Arizona State and Arizona. 247Sports’ Chris Hummer breaks down the Trojans’ biggest problems.
- Next, let’s go to the Big 12 and discuss the Iowa State Cyclones. Iowa State is currently in first place in the Big 12 with a 5-1 conference record. But, Kansas State has been solid, too, sporting a 4-2 Big 12 mark. The Wildcats have lost to West Virginia and Oklahoma State the past two weeks, but this is a rivalry they have dominated. It is crazy to think that Kansas State has beaten Iowa State 11 of the last 12 years.
- Now, we’ll discuss a legitimate Playoff contender in Cincinnati. The No. 7 Bearcats travel to Orlando to take on an explosive UCF squad. If Cincinnati wins out, there’s a path to the Playoff, which would be historic for a Group of 5 team. ESPN’s Heather Dinich broke down the paths for the Bearcats and No. 8 BYU. Of course, the Playoff talk brings added pressure to Luke Fickell’s squad. Oh, and UCF would love nothing more than to play spoiler after the Playoff committee kept the Knights out of the party a couple of years ago.
- Finally, let’s check in on one of the best stories of the season. Coastal Carolina is the No. 15 team in the country, sporting an impressive 7-0 record. But, this weekend, a tough Appalachian State squad comes to town. According to ESPN’s FPI, Coastal Carolina only has a 59.3% chance to win this game. If the Chanticleers do win, though, an undefeated season could be next, as they’re given at least a 72% chance to win each of their final three games after this week.
We’ve seen crazy results this year. With rosters constantly in flux due to COVID-19 and contact tracing, teams have had to adjust on the fly on a weekly basis. Will we see more major upsets this weekend? It seems likely, but we’ll see on Saturday!
The nine FBS schools averaging at least 45 points per game this season are:
- Kent State — 52.7 points per game
- Western Michigan — 50.3 points per game
- Alabama — 47.2 points per game
- Wisconsin — 47.0 points per game
- Ohio State — 46.3 points per game
- Oklahoma — 46.1 points per game
- Florida — 45.8 points per game
- Clemson — 45.4 points per game
- BYU — 45.3 points per game
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Well, Cardinal Mooney High School in Youngstown was part of my recruiting area for a long time and you know all the Stoops brothers came through there. That’s where they went to school when their dad was a defensive coordinator there. Even though they all ended up at Iowa, we still tried to recruit them at Michigan State when I was at Michigan State, and Don Bucci was the coach (at Cardinal Mooney). Ron was a defensive coordinator, which was their dad, who I had a really good relationship with. You know I’m gonna admit and I wasn’t a very good recruiter back in those days.”
– As Alabama prepares to play Kentucky this weekend, Nick Saban relived the time when he tried to recruit Mark Stoops to Michigan State.
TWEET OF THE DAY
The SEC had the No. 1 overall picks in the NBA and NFL Drafts for the first time ever this year, thanks to LSU QB Joe Burrow and Georgia G Anthony Edwards. It was the first time since 2005 players from the same conference went No. 1 overall in both drafts. That’s when Utah had both No. 1 picks.
This edition of the Saturday Football newsletter was written by Adam Spencer.