Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: Which non-Ohio State game are you most excited for in Week 1?
It. Is. Here! Week 1, Gene. We finally made it. We somehow survived the spring and summer seasons without football, which was especially tough for me due to Cincinnati disemboweling their professional baseball team and calling it quits on the season. To borrow a page from Lana Del Ray: I got that summertime, summertime sadness. But the Buckeyes are back to lift my spirits, and I am excited for some college football.
Before we get to the Week 1 matchups we find most exciting, it is important for us to acknowledge Week 0. I do not want to completely ignore it, and proper respect must be paid. So without further ado: Week 0, you were... actual college football for which records are kept. Beyond that, I think we’re better off as acquaintances. I might shoot you the occasional glance or a courtesy nod, but until you spend time reflecting and really improving yourself, I do not envision us having a deep, meaningful, or even friendly relationship. Call me shallow, but I don’t find you attractive. I am into sexy, ranked teams. Always have been. If you “glow up”, maybe we can grab a cup of coffee and talk. Until then, my heart belongs to Weeks 1-14.
With that out of my system, Gene, let’s talk big boy football games. I think there are plenty of interesting ones on the schedule. And I’m not just saying that because, as the kids would say, I am thirsty for CFB. While there are only a few matchups involving two ranked teams, you don’t have to look far to find other intriguing options. West Virginia - Pitt has some history, Penn State - Purdue is a nice Big Ten surprise on a Thursday, the neutral site games on Sunday and Monday will get some eyeballs... I could go on and on. But other than Ohio State’s battle with Notre Dame, I am most interested in the game involving Ohio State’s last opponent. I am of course referring to the Utah Utes, as they go toe-to-toe with the Florida Gators in Gainesville on Saturday night.
Utah gave OSU all they could handle in the 2022 Rose Bowl, and Florida is hoping to return to their previous form under new head coach Billy Napier. So this should be a good game, between two teams (and coaches) that I am either impressed or highly intrigued by. Furthermore, it is just an interesting, sort of off-the-wall non-conference matchup that I typically find appealing. I appreciate when good teams challenge themselves early in the season, going up against another team with which they rarely cross paths. The Utes and the Gators have only played each other once, back in 1977, making this game all the more unique.
As far as players and coaches go, I am slightly more familiar with Utah, given their very recent bowl game against the Buckeyes. On offense, they return the terrific trio of Cameron Rising, Tavion Thomas, and Micah Bernard. Rising and Thomas could find themselves on plenty of watch lists, while Bernard is a perfect complimentary piece. If a receiver or two can make up for the loss of 12-year college vet Britain Covey, the Utes could wind up with an explosive unit — albeit one that smashes your face in, as opposed to throwing over the top. And what is wild to think about, is that if Rising were to miss time, the team has another former Texas QB waiting in the wings. Ja’Quinden Jackson only saw action in three games last year, but was a former four-star recruit and top-10 player in the state of Texas (ESPN had him ranked No. 2 in the talent-rich Lonestar State).
Utah’s defense did lose star linebacker Devin Lloyd and leading sacker Mika Tafua, but their secondary should be better than what we saw in the Rose Bowl, and they added both a stud transfer and a stud recruit at linebacker. The Utes’ defense also gets the benefit of going up against a talented but largely unproven Florida offense. The Gators averaged nearly 31 points per game, but lost their leading rusher and leading receiver.
It might sound like I am making a case for Utah here, but I am genuinely interested to see what Florida looks like under Napier, and with Anthony Richardson entrenched as the starting QB. Napier compiled a 40-12 record at his last stop (Louisiana), and is known to have a strong offensive acumen. He has also been recruiting well, so I would imagine Florida will improve over their 6-7 record in 2021. At the very least, their new coach is not a visor guy — a huge step up from established visor guy.
The Gators’ offense will be led by Richardson, who is a tank of a QB. At 6-foot-3, 230, I have heard him compared to Cam Newton, and I can definitely see it. He was not wildly efficient in a timeshare last season, but I expect improvement now that the job is officially his. Behind him we’ll see Montrell Johnson Jr., who played for Napier at Louisiana, as well (potentially) Trevor Etienne – brother of Travis – and Lorenzo Lingard. The latter has not yet broken through as a college player, but was a consensus five-star recruit in 2018. Can the Gators throw? That is the important question. TBD on the results.
Florida also needs to be better than 74th in scoring defense (2020 & 2021) — which they typically have been. However, they do not return many guys who “wow” you on that side of the ball. The number of recruiting stars is there, but players will have to step up, and maybe they get contributions from freshman Chris McClellan and/or transfer Jalen Kimber. Again, TBD, but that is part of the reason I am excited to watch this game.
Utah and Florida is not a matchup we’re likely to see again in the CFP. But that’s fine. It should be a good football game, featuring two teams potentially on the rise — both possessing a great deal of talent. And that’s all I need, Gene. Let’s really get this thing going!
Josh was kind enough to not pick one of the ranked-on-ranked matchups this coming weekend, and for that he will be getting a (metaphorical) raise. In his defense, however, there are not many to choose from, and those that do exist aren’t all that exciting outside of Ohio State’s game — which is off limits for this exercise. Besides the Buckeyes, the only games that feature a pair of ranked teams are Cincinnati-Arkansas and Oregon-Georgia. The Bearcats are a fantastic story under Luke Fickell, but I worry they’ve lost too much to replicate that success in 2022. The Ducks are led by Bo Nix — need I say more?
There are a bunch of teams I’m interested in seeing for the first time this season. I’m very high on NC State this year and I think they have a legitimate chance to win the ACC, but their opener against East Carolina doesn’t exactly knock my socks off. Penn State at Purdue will be a really fun game on Thursday night, and I’m very intrigued to see what both of those squads look like to kick off the year. Houston, BYU and Kentucky are all teams in the latter half of the preseason AP Poll that are looking to have big years, and I like UCLA and Maryland as a pair of unranked teams who should have made the Top 25, but all begin the year against sub-par opponents.
So, the game I’m looking forward to is one that’s a bit off the radar, as neither team begins the 2022 campaign with a number next to their name. However, it could be one of the more entertaining and hotly contested games of Week 1, and it will be played in one of college football’s most gorgeous venues. I am, of course, talking about the North Carolina Tar Heels at Appalachian State Mountaineers in Boone, NC.
On the UNC side of things, we’ve already seen them in action this season with their Week 0 win over Florida A&M, 56-24. Sam Howell is gone, but in his place is Drake Maye — brother of former Tar Heels hooper Luke Maye — who shined in his debut as the team’s starter, completing 29 of 37 passes for 294 yards and five touchdowns. Josh Downs returns as one of college football’s top receivers, catching nine passes for 78 yards and a pair of scores on Saturday. On defense, Power Echols (phenomenal linebacker name) led the the team with 10 total tackles and a pair of sacks against the Rattlers.
App State, on the other hand, returns seven starters on offense, including quarterback Chase Brice. The former Clemson and Duke QB had a career year in 2021, throwing for over 3,300 yards with 27 touchdowns to 11 interceptions as he led the Mountaineers to an 10-4 record. The core of senior receivers from a year ago are gone, but they return a two-headed monster at running back with Camerun Peoples and Nate Noel. The defense must replace three of their top six tacklers, but senior linebackers Trey Cobb and Nick Hampton will lead the charge, as well as super-senior corner Steven Jones Jr.
This should be a really fun game between two teams from the same state, and the Vegas odds would agree. As things currently stand on Monday morning, North Carolina is a just a 1-point favorite on the road. With things set to kick off at noon on ESPNU, there aren’t a ton of other big games at the time slot to draw your eyes — unless you’re into Colorado State at Michigan or Sam Houston at Texas A&M. I plan on watching as much college football this coming Saturday as my body can handle, and I will be starting things off hopefully with a banger between the Tar Heels and the Mountaineers.