You guys know that I hate to brag.
But I’ve got to brag on myself at the beginning of the Starting 11 column this week.
The Outkick picks went 10-2 this week, with two blood bank guarantees cashing as well. So I hope you guys took advantage of the hot streak and cashed some winners this weekend. I’m very optimistic that this year’s college football picks are going to be on a roll, but even if they are just okay, you can sign up for Outkick VIP and get early access to the weekly college football picks — often before the lines move — an autographed copy of my new book shipped to your house that’s a $35 value even if you don’t value my autograph at all — access to our Outkick VIP events across the country, access to our message board, and first opportunities to jump on Outkick events surrounding radio and TV for the next year.
So #dbap and sign up.
Also, before we officially get rolling with the Starting 11, I want to let y’all know that your company can sponsor the Starting 11 — including the SEC power rankings — for the entire year. I’ve been so busy with the new TV show and the new book that I haven’t been able to respond to advertiser inquiries. So if your company wants to make a play here and reach Outkick’s audience of hundreds of thousands of rabid college football fans, email me.
Okay let’s go with the Starting 11.
1. Jim Harbaugh is the most overrated coach in the history of college football.
Harbaugh is now 9-9 in his past eighteen games. That’s more losses in his past 18 games than Urban Meyer has had in six full seasons at Ohio State.
Worse than that, Harbaugh’s record is nearly identical to Brady Hoke’s through 40 games. Harbaugh is 28-12, Hoke was 27-13.
Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson, the purported savior of the Wolverine offense, was a pedestrian 20/30 for 227 yards with an interception. The newly retooled Michigan offense produced only ten points all game, the final seven points on a drive that took far too long to end in a touchdown.
With Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State, Nebraska, and Ohio State on the schedule in the Big Ten this year, the wheels could come off in a hurry.
And even the most diehard Wolverine fan has to admit this isn’t what was expected when Harbaugh returned to Ann Arbor and was immediately labeled the savior of the program. Harbaugh’s being paid like Nick Saban, but he’s nothing like Saban so far. The biggest difference between the two? Nick Saban has lost nine games in his past seven seasons, Jim Harbaugh has lost nine games in his past 18 contests.
Harbaugh’s also 1-5 against the big two rivals at Michigan — Ohio State and Michigan State.
(By the way, I’m not saying Harbaugh is awful beyond belief or an atrocious coach, I’m just saying he’s the most overrated coach in college football history relative to what he’s done at Michigan compared to the amount of attention he’s received so far.)
My wife’s a Michigan grad, I don’t hate the Wolverines, I’m just honest — Michigan and Harbaugh have been wildly overvalued since he returned to Ann Arbor.
2. Tua is a cheat code.
The most amazing thing about Nick Saban’s dominance at Alabama — five national titles in the past nine years, an overall record of 126-14 since year two began with the Tide — is that he’s never really had a truly dominant quarterback. (I know there are some AJ McCarron truthers out there, but stop.) Tua is a video game cheat code for this offense.
The difference between when he and Jalen Hurts were in the game was night and day.
The reality is this, there is no quarterback controversy at Alabama — this is Tua’s team so long as he stays healthy.
It’s going to take an otherworldly effort to beat Bama when you have Saban’s defense and Tua’s offense.
Here’s a stat that should make Bama’s upcoming opponents gulp — Louisville ran the ball 26 times for 16 yards.
Good luck beating Saban without being able to run the football.
3. Auburn’s win over Washington will have a major impact all season long.
I picked Auburn to make the playoff because I believed the Tigers would win a close, hard fought game over Washington and then lose only one game the rest of the way — to Alabama in the Iron Bowl to finish the season.
This was a win the Pac 12 desperately needed coming off the disastrous bowl game performance. Instead, Washington couldn’t quite get it done. Now the Huskies have to run the table in the Pac 12 and hope Auburn either wins the SEC title or falls out of playoff contention.
Because how could a 12-1 Pac 12 champ Washington get in over 11-1 Auburn with a head-to-head win over the Huskies? Put simply, I don’t think they could.
Having said all of this, I was really impressed by Jake Browning in the game, he made a ton of big plays to keep Washington in the mix and I think there’s a very good chance the Huskies don’t lose in the Pac 12.
4. Credit to Brian Kelly for a massive win for the Fighting Irish.
A year ago Brian Kelly entered the 2017 football season on the ropes.
His team had gone 4-8 in 2016 and Kelly responded with a 10-3 season. But this win is his biggest at Notre Dame in a long time. What’s more, the Irish came out and looked like the better coached and better prepared team. Taking an early 21-3 lead — before giving up a kick return touchdown that kept the game somewhat close — Notre Dame was ready for the moment.
I don’t know what Notre Dame’s ceiling is this year — the schedule is very tough — but the Irish should be 4-0 when Stanford comes to South Bend in the final weekend of September and it’s not crazy for Fighting Irish fans to dream about contending for the playoff this year.
Now if you’re a Notre Dame fan you want to root for Michigan to be really good and contend in the Big Ten all season long. Hell, in an ideal situation you’d like for Michigan to go 12-1 and win the Big Ten. Because then wouldn’t an 11-1 Notre Dame team have to get into the playoff in front of them?
I think so.
5. Will Grier dissected the Tennessee defense in the second half.
Tennessee had a chance to tie or take the lead near halftime — trailing 10-7 the Vols had the ball with five minutes left facing a second and three at the West Virginia 40. They ran the ball twice — the second run on third and four was a particularly questionable call — and punted.
West Virginia took the ball and drove for a field goal.
Then came a long lightning delay.
When the second half started anew, Grier was on fire and he burned up the Vol secondary.
I’m not sure how good West Virginia is — the Vols have a 6-6 type team — but the Mountaineers won’t play a top 25 team until November and Oklahoma has to come to Morgantown.
It’s early, but if you want a surprise team to pay attention to that could contend for a big five conference crown, West Virginia might be that squad.
6. Maryland beat Texas for a second straight year to begin the season.
This is all the more remarkable when you consider Maryland is playing without their head coach and in the midst of the tumult surrounding the death of one of their teammates. (This led to Maryland starting the game with only ten men on the field, which was a tribute that it was hard to watch without it getting a bit dusty in your house).
So credit to Maryland for notching the win.
The ominous thing here for Texas is it’s typically year two when great coaches demonstrate their greatness. They don’t typically lose as two touchdown favorites for a second year in a row to a mediocre Big Ten team. (Question, why is Texas even playing a home and home with Maryland in the first place?)
Tom Herman arrived with great fanfare at Texas two years ago.
He’s now 7-7 with the Longhorns.
I know it’s early, but that USC game in two weeks in Austin almost feels like a must win for Herman if he’s going to reclaim the optimism he entered the job with.
7. Michigan State and Penn State survived and advanced.
Even with the wins, this is ominous for both teams, however.
Can you remember any team in the past twenty years favored by twenty or more who nearly lost — or lost — in week one to a non-big five conference opponent and went on to have a really good championship caliber season?
Because I can’t.
So, yeah, a win’s a win and you survive and advance and all that, but these are troubling signs in these wins for both the Spartans and the Nittany Lions.
Particularly when you go into the box scores. Appalachian State actually outgained Penn State in their game and Michigan State gave up over 300 yards in the air to Utah State.
These weren’t flukish we turned the ball over ten times performances and almost lost either — in fact Penn State won the turnover battle and Michigan State was even — Utah State and App State played their Big Ten foes evenly all game long.
Maybe Penn State and Michigan State can get all of this corrected.
But I have some early doubts.
8. Ohio State won big, but gave up a ton of yards and points to Oregon State.
Most people will focus on the 77 points, but I’m more intrigued by the yards rushing the Beavers posted.
In the third quarter Ohio State got popped for 80 and 78 yard runs. Maybe it was a lack of focus at that point in the game, but you know who doesn’t let that happen at any point in any game? A Nick Saban defense.
It was 56-31 at the end of the third quarter in this game.
These kind of defensive lapses could loom large in week three against TCU.
In the meantime, let’s see if Ohio State can even go a week without a major controversy emerging.
9. Oklahoma looked phenomenal against FAU.
Lane Kiffin’s magic dust ran out at FAU and the Sooners ground the Owls into the dust.
Kyler Murray was outstanding and you got the sense the Sooners could score as many points as they needed in his debut.
The Sooner schedule is very manageable — UCLA is their big out of conference contest this year and that’s at home in Norman next week — and this is a young team that should get much better each week. We’ll see what happens, but it’s hard not to be bullish on the Sooners based on what we saw yesterday.
10. Chip Kelly and Kevin Sumlin lost their Pac 12 debuts.
I feel like both these games were totally under the radar, but Kelly debuted without any offensive pyrotechnics and lost his Rose Bowl debut to a mediocre Cincinnati team. And Kevin Sumlin’s Arizona team lost to BYU. Meanwhile Herm Edwards rolled at Arizona State.
I’m genuinely curious how long it will take Kelly to get things rolling at UCLA. (And I do believe he will get it rolling at UCLA).
Kelly’s taking over a program in much worse shape than Oregon was and given the fact his team goes on the road at Oklahoma next week, he’s likely to start 0-2.
As for Sumlin, this is a tough loss, but I feel like the Pac 12 South will still be wide open this year. We’ll see.
11. Here are the SEC power rankings for week one — with LSU omitted until their game goes final tonight. (Again, remember, I reward many more points for FBS wins than for FCS wins, for big five conference opponents over FCS bought wins). Also, early in the season your team can surge from one week to the next just based on the results of a single game. So stop with the early hate mail, I don’t actually believe Vandy and Ole Miss are better than Georgia. But their wins were more impressive.
4. Ole Miss
8. Mississippi State
9. Texas A&M
11. South Carolina
This Vol ranking is probably unfair given that Tennessee could have walloped an FCS opponent at home — as many other SEC teams did — if they’d so desired instead of opening in a neutral site game against a top 25 opponent, but there’s ample time to adjust these rankings and the Vols were the only SEC team to lose so far so I’m putting them in last place for the week.