Early-Season College Football Overreactions We're Buying and Not Buying

The SI Staff

With three full weeks of the college football season in the books, new narratives are beginning to form, but whether they'll still be true in a month or two remains uncertain. While some things we've learned so far support beliefs that have been held by most for months, others alter or even directly contradict preseason perceptions of teams, players and conferences. We asked our writers to pick two early season overreactions based on the first quarter of the regular season: one they agree is for real, and one they believe will wither as the year progresses. Below are their answers.

Ross Dellenger

Not Buying: Ohio State Is Head-and-Shoulders the Big Ten's Best Team

Why do I feel like this take will have me feeling ill by late November? I'm certainly bound to land on the @OldTakesExposed Twitter feed, right? Anyhow, the Buckeyes have, yes, rolled through their first three games. Their defense looks very much legit, but I still have lingering questions about QB Justin Fields and the offense. Maybe once they play some stiff competition (we might be waiting another month for that) we'll know just how well Fields operates this scheme.

Buying: The SEC Bottom Half Is Down

I again feel destined to be wrong here by the time November rolls around, but we'll take the plunge anyhow. Remember the overreaction when the league opened the season with losses to Wyoming, Georgia State, North Carolina and Memphis? That was a clear sign that the lower half of the conference is down. There were years in the past in which the 10th best SEC team was 8–5 (it happened last year with Missouri). This doesn't feel like one of these years.

Joan Niesen

Not Buying: The Pac-12's Resurgence

Right now, the conference has six ranked teams and is tied with the SEC for the most ranked team of any conference. That just seems... off. Utah is good. The other five teams (Washington State, Washington, Oregon, Cal and Arizona State) are... fine. Unproven. Maybe not that good. We're operating from a point of too little information to draw any conclusions about conference supremacy in 2019, and just because the Pac-12 hasn't done anything disastrous yet doesn't mean it's on the rebound. Plus, it's still hard to imagine any of these teams actually contending for the College Football Playoff come midseason.

Buying: Wisconsin's Defense Is Back

One of the things I was most curious about coming into this season was whether last year's Badgers' defense was an aberration or something like the start of a dropoff for Paul Chryst's team. It's looking a lot like the former—and no, I don't expect the Badgers to pitch a season-long shutout or to continue to limit opponents to less than a yard per rush. But the fact that they've been so close to perfect against two adequate teams bodes well for the Badgers competing again in the Big Ten.

Tim Rohan

Not Buying: Michigan's Offense Is Still Holding It Back

This offseason, Michigan hired a new offensive coordinator, Josh Gattis, the former Alabama assistant, who installed a no-huddle spread offense. In college football, there’s a general assumption that top-ranked teams open up their offenses more as the season progresses. But through two games, it doesn’t seem as if Michigan has had that luxury.

The Wolverines have scored just eight touchdowns in two games. Or, in other words, a single day’s work for Jalen Hurts. As a result, the Wolverines had a little scare against Middle Tennessee State and a big scare from Army.

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson has played uneven, which has stalled the offense’s momentum at times. Perhaps Patterson and the offense will gel as the year goes on, as they grow more comfortable in the new system. But I doubt Gattis is “holding” anything back. If he were, Michigan probably would’ve lost the Army game.

Buying: Joe Burrow as a Heisman Frontrunner

Jump on the Joe Burrow bandwagon now, while there’s still room. The hype is based almost entirely on Burrow’s performance at Texas, but what a performance it was: 471 yards, four touchdowns, 80% completion rate. In three games, Burrow has thrown for 1,122 yards and 11 touchdowns on an 83% completion rate. In LSU’s new spread offense, he has a chance to put up huge numbers this season. He also has plenty more marquee games, including three against top-10 teams: Florida, Auburn, and Alabama. Plus, maybe the SEC championship game. If it won’t be Trevor or Tua or Jalen, Burrow looks like a good bet right now.

Max Meyer

Not Buying: Arizona State Can Be a Surprise Contender in the Pac-12 South

The Sun Devils are fresh off a 10–7 road upset win over Michigan State to move to 3–0 on the season. Only preseason hype machine Utah can match ASU’s undefeated record in the Pac-12 South. But the Michigan State box score shouldn’t make ASU fans optimistic—the Sun Devils were outgained 410–216 and had a -1.3 yard per play differential compared to Sparty. Michigan State also had two field goals wiped away due to penalty, including the game-tying attempt at the end of regulation.

ASU’s defense has allowed seven points per game, but the opponents have been Kent State, Sacramento State and an anemic Michigan State offense. The Sun Devils have major issues on the offensive line; it ranks 110th in sack rate and star tailback Eno Benjamin is averaging a mere 3.7 YPC (compared to 5.5 in 2018). Jayden Daniels has shown flashes, but he’s still a true freshman and playing behind that OL will limit his ceiling this season. I also think ASU’s defense regresses when it goes up against offenses that can actually move the ball. I’ll be eager to see how it fares against Colorado this upcoming Saturday.

Buying: LSU Can Win the SEC West

I was buying LSU’s offense in the preseason, and now I’m all-in after what I’ve seen from Joe Burrow and Co. in the first three games. The Tigers are tied for eighth in the country in offensive plays of 10 yards or more (58) and tied for 15th in 20 yards or more (21). LSU finished 54th and tied for 83rd in those categories last season, showing that the newly implemented spread offense is quite explosive. Alabama has had a few injuries on defense already, and that group looked far from dominant against South Carolina this past weekend. The looming Alabama-LSU has shootout potential written all over it, and the Tigers have the better secondary and special teams. Tua Tagovailoa struggled vs. Georgia and Clemson last season, and he wasn’t at his sharpest against LSU, either. It feels weird to type, but I can envision a possibility where the Tide aren’t in the SEC championship game.

Scooby Axson

Not Buying: The ACC Is Going to Be Improved

Coming into the season, it was thought that Florida State, Miami, Syracuse and Virginia Tech would at least take the next step in moving closer to Clemson to end their string of four straight conference titles. But none of those four teams, who have a combined record of 5–7, hsd done anything of substance through the first portion of the schedule, with the Tigers way out in front in terms of coaching, talent and respectability. It’s not even the end of September yet and the ACC only has three undefeated teams left.

Buying: New Year, Same Result for Oklahoma

After coaching two straight Heisman Trophy winners who went on to be No. 1 picks in the NFL draft, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley has proven it doesn’t matter who is taking the snaps and has another transfer on his hands in former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts. Hurts didn’t show the efficiency that Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray did in his three seasons with the Crimson Tide, but then again, he wasn’t coached by Riley, either. Hurts has taken the reigns in Norman and through three games has a 250.20 passer rating, 30 points higher than the next closest quarterback.

Laken Litman

Not Buying: The Panic Around Trevor Lawrence and His 5 INT

Fair or not, expectations for Trevor Lawrence heading into his sophomore season were that he’d pick up right where he left off post-national championship. Instead, he’s thrown more interceptions through three games (five) than he did in 15 games last year (four). Clemson hasn’t faced true adversity and likely won’t anytime soon without a top 25 team left on its schedule, so we’re forced to nitpick a guy who could end up winning consecutive national titles and maybe the Heisman Trophy. Lawrence was bound to make some mistakes: it’s only his second season starting, defenses have now had a year to study him, and he’s still growing and learning in this offense. Plus, Deshaun Watson had more interceptions his second year starting in 2016 (17) than his first (13), and he still led the Tigers to a national title and was a first-round pick.

Buying: Joe Burrow as a Heisman Frontrunner

After starting the season with 200–1 odds to win the Heisman, Joe Burrow now has the third-best odds to win—trailing only Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts—at 9–2. Unlike his fellow Heisman contenders, Burrow has already been tested in big moments. In a Week 2 road game against a then-No. 9 Texas, the LSU QB went 31 of 39 for 471 yards with four touchdowns and converted a 61-yard TD pass on third-and-17 to clinch the win with less than three minutes to play. Now heading into SEC play, Burrow leads the country with an 83.3 completion percentage, and is second in both passing yards (1,122) and touchdowns (11). The Tigers still have four ranked teams left on their schedule, and potentially an SEC title game to play, so Burrow will have plenty more chances to make some moves and show voters why he’s the best player in the country.