Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football, where the Gainesville airport is no place to spend the night stranded waiting for a delayed flight home:
FOURTH QUARTER: QUARTERBACK SEPARATION SATURDAY
There aren’t as many compelling team matchups this week as there were over the Labor Day weekend marathon, but there are some intriguing showdowns between quarterbacks to keep an eye on. The Dash rundown:
Alabama-Texas (31) features the first of two California vs. Texas products at QB.
Bryce Young of Pasadena, Calif., is the proven commodity. The 2021 Heisman Trophy winner got off to a blockbuster season start Saturday against Utah State: the Tide scored on all nine possessions he quarterbacked, with five touchdown passes in the first half and a career-high 100 yards rushing. The Longhorns counter with Quinn Ewers of Southlake, Texas, also a five-star recruit out of high school, now trying to become famous for something other than his mullet and luxury cars. Ewers got his first college Saturday night against Louisiana-Monroe and was fine: 225 yards passing, two touchdowns, one interception. He will have to be better than that for Texas not to be run out of its own stadium in the heat of the Austin afternoon this week.
Key stat: Success for Ewers on first down. Steve Sarkisian built his passing game against Monroe around early-down aggressiveness—Ewers was 9-of-11 on first down for 171 yards and a touchdown, and all three of his completions for 25 or more yards came on first down. Getting ahead of schedule on first down would be ideal against the Alabama rush, which has the capability of putting Ewers in distress in obvious passing situations.
Dash prediction: Young and Alabama win decisively, covering the 20-point spread. Alabama 45, Texas 21. (Research material is scarce, but The Dash guarantees Texas has never been a 20-point home underdog before.)
Clemson-Furman (32) is the other California vs. Texas quarterback battle—but they both play for Clemson.
Tigers fans got their first look at freshman Cade Klubnik of Austin, Texas, and let’s just say it was tantalizing. Playing mop-up minutes against Georgia Tech Monday night, Klubnik led a crisp, 66-yard touchdown drive on his first college possession. He played in relief of starter DJ Uiagalelei, from Inland Empire, Calif. He was better than last year (particularly as a running threat) but still fairly pedestrian statistically (19-of-32 for 209 yards and a touchdown, a 124.55 efficiency rating).
Klubnik’s crisp debut was enough to ignite a quarterback controversy, at least in the minds of the fans. Coach Dabo Swinney isn’t going there yet. “I think you saw DJ do things tonight that we needed to see and he didn’t do last year,” Swinney said, while also praising Klubnik’s performance.
Dabo has been down this road before, navigating a situation that ended up with freshman Trevor Lawrence overtaking Kelly Bryant as the Clemson starter early in the 2018 season. That’s not a discussion point yet, but the Furman game should afford Klubnik earlier entry and a greater chance to play with the No. 1 offense and show what he can do. Swinney has a couple of weeks to sort it out before big early games against Wake Forest Sept. 24 and North Carolina State Oct. 1.
Other quarterback matchups in significant games this week:
Kentucky-Florida (33). Will Levis vs. Anthony Richardson in a battle of hot QBs looking to seize the moment and elevate their teams in divisional play.
Everyone is chasing Georgia in the SEC East, and in terms of pass efficiency everyone is chasing Bulldogs QB Stetson Bennett. Could the winner here be considered the Dawgs’ prime competition? Tennessee might still have something to say about that, but for now this game looms large in the East pecking order.
Levis made a name for himself last year and brings a rising NFL draft profile into The Swamp. The next step in establishing his credibility would be a big performance against a good SEC opponent—last year his efficiency rating in SEC games was 131.95 (meh) and 172.99 (much better) against non-conference opponents. He was decidedly ineffective against Florida last year, even though the Wildcats won.
Richardson went from talented tease in 2021 to a sensation last Saturday, rolling up 274 yards total offense and three touchdowns against a quality Utah defense and leading the Gators to an upset home win. Kentucky’s ability to get him on the ground will be paramount.
Dash prediction: Florida 27, Kentucky 21.
Baylor-BYU (34). Blake Shapen vs. Jaren Hall, the guy who waited until the 11th hour to commit vs. the guy who basically committed as a baby.
Shapen originally committed to Arizona State his senior year of high school in Shreveport, La., but backed off that in December of 2019. Three days before the February ’20 signing day, he chose Baylor. After a redshirt season, he backed up Gerry Bohanan last year until a late-season an injury to Bohanan gave Shapen his shot to start. He played impressively, then beat out the incumbent starter in the spring to take over the position. Shapen was sharp in an opening rout of Albany (17-of-20 for 214 yards and two touchdowns).
The 24-year-old Hall committed to BYU nearly eight years ago, early in his junior season of high school. The son of a former Cougar signed in 2016, went on a two-year Mormon mission, redshirted in ’18, played sparingly in ’19, was injured in ’20 and finally became the starter last season. Hall threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns in the opener at South Florida.
Dash prediction: Baylor 26, BYU 24.
Tennessee-Pittsburgh (35). Hendon Hooker vs. Kedon Slovis in the Transfer Game of the Week.
Hooker arrived in Knoxville last year from Virginia Tech, watched Michigan transfer Joe Milton begin the year as the starter, and took the job away in this game last year, a loss to the Panthers. He’s been sensational ever since, including a four-touchdown season opener against Ball State last week.
Slovis was part of the USC QB diaspora after the arrival of Lincoln Riley, relocating to Pitt and claiming the spot vacated by Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett. Slovis was good in his Pitt debut, leading a comeback victory in the Backyard Brawl rivalry game against West Virginia. He completed all five of his passes on the game-winning drive.
Dash prediction: Tennessee 35, Pittsburgh 31.
Washington State-Wisconsin (36). Cameron Ward vs. Graham Mertz in a matchup of a guy who was given up on early vs. a guy who was given up on late.
Ward was almost completely unrecruited after playing in a Wing T offense in Texas. He wound up at FCS Incarnate Word and quickly proved himself, becoming one of the hottest quarterbacks on the transfer market and following his head coach to Washington State. (Eric Morris is the Cougars’ offensive coordinator.) Ward was fairly unspectacular in his Wazzu debut, throwing for 215 yards and three touchdowns against Idaho.
Mertz was one of the most acclaimed quarterback recruits in Wisconsin history and appeared ready to meet the hype when his first college start was a 20-of-21 passing performance for four touchdowns and no interceptions against Illinois. From there it was straight downhill statistically, with 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions over his next 19 starts. Badgers fans were howling for someone else to take over, but Mertz maintained the job and delivered another highly accurate season opener last week: 14-of-16 for 219 yards and a touchdown.
Dash prediction: Wisconsin 23, Washington State 10.
STAT OF THE WEEK
New Nevada (37) coach Ken Wilson waited 35 years to become a college head coach. He’s started 2–0 thanks to a dominant turnover margin. The Wolf Pack are plus-nine on the season already, with five takeaways against New Mexico State, four against Texas State, and no giveaways to date. Nevada was outgained in both games, but won big in the most important stat on the sheet. Going back to last year, the Wolf Pack are a whopping plus-24 turnover margin in their last 12 games.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Jedd Fisch (38), Arizona. His debut season taking over a cratered program in Tucson was a 1–11 slog. One of the mottos for Season 2 has been, “don’t look back,” and the underdog Wildcats did a fine job putting the past behind them in dominating San Diego State, 38–20. It was Arizona’s first season-opening victory in five years.
Fisch is trying to pull a Mel Tucker, mining the transfer portal after one season for immediate upgrades at key positions. Among them: Washington State transfer QB Jayden de Laura threw for 299 yards and four touchdowns against San Diego State, with more than half the yardage and 75% of the TDs on passes to UTEP transfer Jacob Cowing. Leading rusher D.J. Williams is a new arrival from Florida State.
Next up is a big credibility opportunity at home against Mississippi State in a late game Saturday night.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Brian Kelly (39), LSU. You sign a $100-million, 10-year contract at a place like LSU and the fans might actually expect you to have a competent punt returner (two muffs in the opener against Florida State) and a line that can protect on place kicks (two blocks, one on the final play to seal defeat). Kelly took the blame afterward, as he should. The Dash believes he will win at LSU, and ultimately win big, but this was an inglorious start.