Professor Tom Luicci: College Football Plus Looks at Sudden Rise of LSU

Professor Tom Luicci is back for another season of telling us the answers to our questions about CFB

By Tom Luicci, TMG special contributor

You Have Questions After Week 2? We Have The Answers.

Five questions

Q. If we re-did the Top 5 based on the first two weeks how much different would it look than it actually does now?

Put it this way: Does any team have a better win at this point than LSU beating Texas – ranked No. 9 entering the game -- on the road? Why shouldn’t the Tigers be No. 1 right now based on results and performance? The eye test matters too, but nothing trumps results. So the way things look right now, a Top 5 of LSU, Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma and either Georgia or Ohio State seems about right at this juncture of the season. We need to see a little more from Wisconsin, Notre Dame and – believe it or not – USC before they enter this conversation.

Q. Which fan base should be the most distraught the most at this point?

Lots of candidates to choose from. So let’s review: Miami is 0-2 for the first time since 1978, hardly the debut new coach Manny Diaz expected. Florida State needed a missed extra point in OT to escape against Louisiana-Monroe and it may take a minor miracle for Willie Taggart to survive the season. The crowd for that game was the smallest at Doak Campbell Stadium for a non-hurricane game since 1988, suggesting the fan base has already bailed on this team. UCLA is 0-2 and played before the third-smallest crowd since moving to the Rose Bowl in 1982.

But the fan base in full meltdown mode has to be Tennessee’s. Vols are 0-2 for the first time since 1988, following up an embarrassing home loss to Georgia State with a late-game defensive collapse that led to a 29-26 home loss in OT to BYU. Jeremy Pruitt should get his first win at Tennessee next week – we think – against Tennessee-Chattanooga. But Vols fans are apoplectic right now, and rightfully so.

Q. Will we see a better passing show this season than the one put on by LSU’s Joe Burrow and Texas’ Sam Ehlinger on Saturday?

This one will be hard to top, considering the stakes and the caliber of both teams. Ehlinger was superb, going 31-of-47 for 401 yards with four TD passes. But Burrow topped him by going 31-of-39 for 471 yards with four TD passes. Burrow had an answer to Ehlinger every time he needed one, and in a hostile setting, and looked at ease in the Tigers’ new, aggressive offensive system.

Q. How much longer will it be until we start taking Maryland and USC seriously?

Terps are finally healthy, especially at quarterback, and the results have been impressive. The 79-0 opening day win over Howard didn’t register a blip on the college football radar, but the 63-20 rout of No. 21-ranked Syracuse sure did. Maryland rolled up 642 yards of offense, 354 rushing, and scored 42 points in the first half before going on to the most lopsided win by an unranked team over a ranked opponent since 1999. The Terps’ schedule is backloaded with Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Ohio State as the last four games, so we may have to wait until then to see how good Mike Locksley’s team really is.

Trojans opened some eyes with their 45-20 victory over Stanford, with true freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis easing concerns at the position by throwing for 377 yards and three TDs in his first college start. A three-game stretch of Utah, Washington and Notre Dame that starts later this month should tell us all we need to know about USC.

Q. When is some Power 5 AD looking for a head coach finally going to have the light bulb go off by hiring away Army’s Jeff Monken?

Okay, we get it: At Georgia Southern, where he was 38-16, and now at Army, where he has revived a dead program, he ran the triple option. But good head coaches can coach anywhere. You hire an offensive coordinator to implement a more contemporary system. Monken, 22-6 the past three years at West Point, has now taken both Oklahoma and Michigan to overtime on the road the past two years. The guy can flat-out coach. He deserves a shot at a major college program. Give him the money to hire a top-flight offensive coordinator and let Monken, who is 52, coach everything else. It’s not that difficult folks.

On the rise

Hawaii (2-0)

Rainbow Warriors have defeated Arizona and Oregon State to start the year, and if they win at Washington on Saturday in their only non-conference road game of the year Larry Scott may have to declare them de facto Pac-12 champions.

Colorado (2-0)

Buffs had been 1-22 all-time vs. ranked Nebraska teams before their stirring comeback and 34-31 OT win against the Huskers. New coach Mel Tucker should savor this as long as he can (we know a weed shop in Boulder that’s good for that too).

San Diego State (2-0)

Aztecs had been 0-21-1 against UCLA before Saturday’s 23-14 victory over the Bruins. They now have more wins against Pac-12 teams the past four years (five) than Oregon State (four).

On the decline

Cincinnati (1-1)

Bearcats followed their nationally televised victory over UCLA by curling into a fetal position at Ohio State in a 42-0 loss in coach Luke Fickell’s return to the Columbus. An upset wasn’t expected but a few vestiges of competitiveness were. It never happened.

USF (0-2)

Bulls found a creative way to lose their eighth straight game in a 14-10 defeat to Georgia Tech, suffering a costly goal line fumble while rushing for just 93 yards on 30 carries. It’s painful to watch Charlie Strong coach now.

Kansas (1-1)

Welcome to the real world, Les Miles. A 12-7 loss to Coastal Carolina means it’s officially the start of hoops season in Lawrence.

Who’s hot

Antoine Winfield, Jr., DB, Minnesota

For the second straight year the redshirt sophomore made a game-saving interception in the end zone against Fresno State, this time preserving a 38-35 OT victory.

Kedon Slovis, QB, USC

True frosh dazzled in his debut against Stanford, going 28-of-33 for 377 yards and three TDs – and may have saved the Trojans’ season. It probably helped that his high school position coach was Kurt Warner.

Elijah Sindelar, QB, Purdue

The senior helped Boilermakers fans forget the head-scratching opening-game loss to Nevada by throwing for 509 yards and five TDs and running for another score in a 42-24 victory over Vanderbilt.

Who’s not

Jacob Meeks, PK, Louisiana-Monroe

Hate to pick on a kicker, but the sophomore’s missed PAT in overtime – after he’d been 8-for-8 this season – allowed Florida State to escape with a 45-44 victory.

Chip Kelly, head coach, UCLA

Remember when he was viewed as innovative and ground-breaking with his Quack Attack at Oregon? He’s now 0-5 against non-conference opponents at UCLA – and four of those losses have been to Group of 5 schools. This looks like a very bad fit in Westwood.

Jordan Cronkite, RB, USF

As he tried to stretch the ball over the goal line in the fourth quarter to possibly put the Bulls in position for an upset, he fumbled into the end zone with Georgia Tech’s T.K. Chimedza recovering. Yellow Jackets held on for a 14-10 win.

Playing it forward

The top games of the coming week

Alabama at South Carolina, CBS, 3:30

This is for amusement purposes only. Can’t wait to see how Will Muschamp gets his team ready (or fails to) for this one.

Iowa at Iowa State, FS1, 4 p.m.

Cyclones have already claimed a piece of the state championship in Iowa by beating Northern Iowa in their opener. Hawkeyes, 2-0, look to be much improved defensively (though Rutgers should never be used as a measuring stick).

Arizona State at Michigan State, 4 p.m., Fox

Neither 2-0 team has faced an opponent of any consequence yet. Spartans are still stinging from a 16-13 loss at Arizona State last year.

Clemson at Syracuse, 7:30 p.m., ABC

Hard to expect much from the Orange here after they were embarrassed by Maryland, but they do have a brief history of giving the Tigers fits (see a 27-24 Syracuse win in 2017 and a hard-fought 27-24 Clemson victory last year).

Hawaii at Washington, PAC 12 Network, 7:30 p.m.

Someone in the Pac-12 has to stop the Rainbow Warriors from a 3-0 showing against the league this year, don’t they? Huskies must be fuming after their 20-19 upset loss to Cal last week.

Story Lines

1. How neat was it to see freshman Ryan Hilinski make his first career start for South Carolina last week, going 24-of-30 for 282 yards and two TDs in a 72-10 rout of Charleston Southern? Hilinksi was being recruited by the Gamecocks when his older brother Tyler, Washington State’s quarterback at the time, committed suicide. The opponent didn’t matter. The story line does. Hilinski, who has the unenviable assignment of facing Alabama this week, became the starter when Jake Bentley suffered a broken foot in USC’s opener.

2. An interesting decision by Kentucky coach Mark Stoops that probably got lost during the Wildcats’ 38-17 victory over Eastern Michigan last week. Stoops declined to accept a safety in the second quarter when EMU was flagged for holding in the end zone, taking the result of the play instead: An interception by Jordan Griffin that gave Kentucky the ball at the 11 yardline. The end result wound up as a 40-yard field goal, making it a plus-one-point decision on Stoops’ part. Still debating if it was the right move since the Wildcats would have also received the ball, and in good field position no doubt, if they had taken the safety. That meant the potential for nine points vs. Stoops’ hope for seven while settling for three. But coaches are smarter than all of us regular folk.

Tom Luicci was the national college football and basketball writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. from 1979-2014.

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