Saturday Football: Mike Leach, Texas A&M-Alabama preview and Group of 5 contenders
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Good morning and happy Wednesday! Last weekend felt like a full college football schedule, even without the Big Ten and Pac-12. This weekend promises more of the same, with two ranked matchups in the SEC, a rematch of last year’s ACC title game and a potential elimination game in the Big 12 title race between Oklahoma and Iowa State. It’s great to have football back in full force!
In today’s newsletter, we’ll discuss where Mike Leach and the Mississippi Bulldogs go from here after a huge win over LSU. We’ll also preview the Alabama-Texas A&M showdown and take a look at some contenders from the Group of 5 ranks. Let’s get started, shall we?
Mississippi State pulled off the biggest upset in the SEC in Week 1. Are Mike Leach’s Bulldogs for real?
Everyone expected Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense to put up big numbers this year in the SEC. No one expected Mississippi State to come out in Week 1 and set an SEC passing record in a 44-34 road upset of No. 6 LSU. Now, Leach’s Bulldogs are the hot new thing in college football. There will be a lot of pressure to keep putting up numbers and racking up victories.
So, are the Bulldogs for real? Or, are they a one-hit wonder that will soon be figured out by SEC defensive coordinators. Here’s a look at some of the chatter surrounding Leach’s squad after Saturday’s win:
- The Bulldogs are getting a lot of respect after the upset win. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit has Mississippi State at No. 6 in his rankings of teams that have played this fall. In this week’s AP Poll, the Bulldogs went from unranked to No. 16 in the top 25. As for the outlook in Starkville moving forward? Herbstreit said he thinks the Bulldogs are dangerous, but isn’t ready to say they have what it takes to make it through the SEC gauntlet.
- Leach isn’t going to go easy on KJ Costello after a historic day. After Costello torched the Tigers for an SEC-record 623 passing yards, Leach was quick to list some areas where Costello can improve. The good news? According to Saturday Down South’s Brian Stultz, the Bulldog receivers proved they have the talent to make the Air Raid offense work.
- This hot start has to feel good for Leach after the journey he’s had. He was almost hired at Tennessee a couple of years ago, but then AD John Currie was abruptly fired during the midst of one of the most bizarre coaching searches ever. For years, some analysts have said Leach’s system would never work in a league like the SEC. In this week’s First and 10 column, Saturday Down South’s Matt Hayes writes about Leach’s journey and how Saturday’s win begins the process of validating one of the greatest offensive minds of this generation.
- Meanwhile, Leach continues to deliver some all-time great quotes. First, after the win, he and the Mississippi State social media team put together this incredible video inviting people to hop on the Bulldog bandwagon. Then, he discussed how he thinks Nick Saban might be a fan of “costume play” when talking about potentially wearing a costume on the sidelines for the Oct. 31 (Halloween) matchup against Alabama. Finally, he went on a long, hilarious rant about the cardboard cutouts of fans at Tiger Stadium on Saturday. Yes, Leach does stuff like this all the time, but it definitely seems more fun and interesting when his team is winning.
Based on how they played Saturday, the Bulldogs have three winnable games in the next three weeks before their off week. On Saturday, they host Arkansas. Then, on Oct. 10, they head to Kentucky to face a vulnerable Kentucky team. On Oct. 17, they host No. 13 Texas A&M in a big-time matchup. It’ll be interesting to see how Leach and the Bulldogs’ high-flying offense fare during that stretch.
- The SEC is back, and that means sad fans are out in force. There might be limited capacities at stadiums across the country, but there were still plenty of sad fans. Add in the fact that LSU, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Mizzou and South Carolina all lost at home, and it gets even worse. Saturday Down South’s Jim Tomlin takes you through the saddest folks across the country from the weekend.
- There was plenty to learn from the SEC’s Week 1 action. If you’re looking for a detailed breakdown of what happened and what to expect moving forward, you won’t find one better than Monday Down South from SDS writer Matt Hinton. Check out his reactions to a wild Week 1 here.
- There are some great teams this year, but no one is perfect. Each College Football Playoff contender has some weaknesses it will have to overcome to reach the field of four this postseason. Bleacher Report’s Kerry Miller breaks down the biggest weakness each current top-10 team has.
- The Houston Cougars are having some terrible luck this year. So far, the Cougars have played exactly zero games, with all five of their attempts to play eventually getting canceled. How is Dana Holgorsen’s handling this bizarre season? ESPN’s Sam Khan Jr. takes you inside the Cougar locker room in this piece.
TEXAS A&M-ALABAMA PREVIEW
Texas A&M heads to Tuscaloosa for an SEC West showdown. Can the Aggies pull off a major upset?
The Texas A&M Aggies have struggled against Alabama in recent years, but then, who hasn’t? Last weekend, the Aggies barely managed to take down a Vanderbilt squad that many expect to go 0-10 this season, eking out a 17-12 win in College Station. This weekend, things get much tougher for Jimbo Fisher’s squad, as the No. 13 Aggies head to Tuscaloosa to take on No. 2 Alabama.
So, do the Aggies have any chance of pulling off the massive upset over the Crimson Tide? Let’s take a look at this big-time showdown that will be on CBS on Saturday afternoon:
- ESPN’s Football Power Index doesn’t give the Aggies much of a chance. Per the FPI projections, Alabama has a 90.8% chance of winning. The Aggies haven’t beaten the Tide since their first year in the SEC in 2012 — back when a guy named Johnny Manziel was playing quarterback. But, if coach Jimbo Fisher leads his team to an upset this weekend, he’ll become the first former Nick Saban assistant to beat his ex-boss.
- What should we take away from A&M’s awful performance vs. Vandy? Well, what if the Aggies weren’t showing everything they’ve got? Saturday Down South’s Chandler Vessels wonders if A&M was holding back against Vandy and outlines a plan for moving forward against the Tide. Meanwhile, Vessels ponders if the Aggie defense can play well again this week against the potent Alabama offense.
- Speaking of Alabama’s offense, Jaylen Waddle has become a star. Against Mizzou, Waddle had eight catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. He also made this insane catch. Saturday Down South’s David Wasson writes that Waddle has gone from the fifth Beatle to lead singer this year. Saban agrees, saying Waddle has become much more versatile in 2020.
- Defensively, the Crimson Tide aren’t satisfied with the Mizzou performance. After the game, LB Dylan Moses said he wasn’t impressed with how he and his teammates played. Saturday Down South’s Phil Ervin discusses where Alabama’s young defense can go from here. The Aggies will certainly need to be better offensively if they want to have a chance on Saturday.
Yes, Texas A&M struggled against Vanderbilt, but it was the first game after the weirdest offseason in recent memory. However, the Crimson Tide still have plenty of room for improvement despite a big win over Mizzou. Which team will make the adjustments necessary to win this SEC West showdown? Tune in to CBS at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday to find out!
JUST FOR FUN
Saturday was the first real day of carnage in the college football world when it comes to upsets and ranked teams losing. Over the weekend, five teams that were ranked in the AP Poll lost. Three lost in ranked matchups to teams that were above them in the poll, but two lost to unranked foes. Can you name all five ranked teams that lost over the weekend?
Scroll down to see the answers to today’s quiz.
GROUP OF 5 UPDATE
There are some surprise teams from the Group of 5. Which teams have been impacted most by revised schedules?
Through the first four weeks of the college football season, there have been a handful of Group of 5 programs that have been hard to ignore. Everything from Louisiana’s Cinderella-type status to BYU’s dominant start to a suddenly-loaded AAC has kept fans entertained early in the year.
Revised schedules have certainly played a role in how we’re viewing programs at the Group of 5 level this season. What’s interesting, though, is that some teams seem to have benefited from a new slate, while others could say there’s been a negative impact. Here are a few examples of how the new schedules in 2020 have affected programs:
- Louisiana is absolutely the greatest beneficiary of the new schedule. Remember when the Ragin’ Cajuns stormed into Ames and upset No. 23 Iowa State? That never would’ve happened under the previous slate. The only Power 5 team Louisiana was scheduled to play originally was Missouri, and that was set for late November. Because of the change, Louisiana was able to knock off the Cyclones, snapping a 77-year drought from the Associated Press Top 25. Even though the Ragin’ Cajuns fell out of the rankings in the latest polls because of the B1G, Pac-12, Mountain West and MAC all returning, they’re still 3-0 and have been temporarily adopted as America’s team.
- BYU has been on the other side of the scheduling coin. Perhaps you haven’t noticed, but BYU has looked really good through its first two contests. The Cougars handed Navy a 55-3 loss in their season opener (the Midshipmen’s worst defeat under Ken Niumatalolo), and followed it up with a 48-7 victory over Troy on Saturday. The dominant start has resulted in a No. 22 ranking in the AP Poll. While that all sounds well and good, there’s one problem: BYU was originally scheduled to play six (!) Power 5 opponents. Because of a revised schedule, BYU missed games against Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State, Minnesota, Missouri and Stanford. It sure would’ve been fun to see how the Cougars stacked up against those teams, and whether they would’ve been worthy of the College Football Playoff conversation.
- What about the AAC? The conference already has three teams that are undefeated and are ranked in the polls this week — No. 11 UCF, No. 15 Cincinnati and No. 25 Memphis. All three teams will play each other this fall, which will probably be the most exciting Group of 5 matchups all season. But Cincinnati didn’t get its shot at Nebraska, UCF isn’t playing a ranked North Carolina team and Memphis will not be traveling to Purdue. Could you imagine the conversations we’d be having if all three teams registered victories in those games? The AAC would have a legitimate claim to the “Power 6” title.
It’s impossible to know what the college football season would’ve looked like if 2020 proceeded as planned. If all 10 leagues started from the beginning, maybe these Group of 5 programs wouldn’t be quite as intriguing as they are right now. Nonetheless, it’s been interesting to see how alternate schedules have affected those handful of programs so early in the season.
Here are the answers to today’s AP Poll quiz. The five ranked teams that lost over the weekend were:
- No. 3 Oklahoma (38-35 vs. Kansas State)
- No. 6 LSU (44-34 vs. Mississippi State)
- No. 22 Army (24-10 at No. 14 Cincinnati)
- No. 23 Kentucky (29-13 at No. 8 Auburn)
- No. 24 Louisville (23-20 at No. 21 Pitt)
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“In the end, it seemed like Will Muschamp can’t do anything right. He gets his team back in the game and then it all falls apart.”
– SEC Network host Paul Finebaum put South Carolina coach Will Muschamp on blast following some questionable decisions in a 31-27 loss to Tennessee on Saturday. Many Gamecock fans are growing frustrated with the embattled coach.
TWEET OF THE DAY
Florida set a school record with 642 yards of offense against Ole Miss on Saturday afternoon. Afterward, coach Dan Mullen joked that legendary Florida coach Steve Spurrier owed him a drink. Well, Spurrier paid up on that, giving Mullen a little bottle of wine. Never change, Head Ball Coach.