The clock has expired on the first quarter of college football season, and thus far, offseason tomatoes thrown at the sport's lack of parity have hit their mark with a splattering upon impact. Alabama and Cincinnati are the only programs who haven't moved from their preseason perches inside the top 10 after more nationally-ranked teams have lost through the first three weeks of the season (19) than ever before in the history of the AP Top 25.
Fans clamoring for new blood in the College Football Playoff may get their wish if this trend continues. Before we get into chaos scenarios pushing a program like Cincinnati to potential final four stardom this fall, let's dive into a game plan that only works in video games and a preseason frontrunner whose problems are expansive ahead of other storylines in Week 4.
When analytics go wrong
The smallest football program in the FCS ranks is taking a chance this season with a coach who never punts. Kevin Kelley, an extreme strategist of sorts, has taken over Presbyterian College after winning nine state championships in 18 years at Pulaski Academy in Arkansas. He found success there by never punting and always calling onside kicks after touchdowns.
So, when Presbyterian faced a fourth-and-22 last week against Campbell on its own 2-yard line, Kelley called an offensive play. The Blue Hose completed an 18-yard pass that fell short of the sticks. Campbell scored on the next play and went on to win game, 72-0, forcing 10 turnovers and benefiting from a slew of short fields.
"Some people are scared of what might happen if they try something, [while] some people look at what could happen if I get to try something, and I've always been that guy." Kelley said before the season while preparing to take his first shot at college football. "I look at the positive side of, if I take this chance or try something new, what are the great things that could happen? And if I've got good science behind that, and good math, and it doesn't win, I can deal with what comes after that."
Campbell is coached by former Carolina Panthers safety Mike Minter, who said before the game he would hate to be his defensive coordinator tasked with stopping an offense averaging 76 points per game coming in.
The jokes write themselves.
Clemson's offense in quicksand
Admittedly, I chalked up Clemson's season-opening performance on offense as being out-schemed by Georgia Bulldogs and assumed errors would be quickly corrected in the coming weeks. But after eight more quarters of frustration, perhaps 340-pound Jordan Davis wasn't the only reason for this team's faceplant offensively.
Anyone laying big point spreads with Tigers this season should probably stop now before Las Vegas catches up. Saturday's win over Georgia Tech was supposed to be an easy, a pick-your-score game in which D.J. Uiagalelei and his receivers found themselves on the same page and lit up the scoreboard. However, the warts were still there.
For those who missed Clemson's win over South Carolina State the previous week and only skimmed the box score, you didn't see coach Dabo Swinney berating his quarterback after an errant screen pass went off his intended target's hands for an interception. TV cameras panned to a livid Swinney, who was scolding Uiagalelei inside of a huddle on the sideline.
Execution issues have plagued the Clemson offense through three games. Combined with the offseason losses of Travis Etienne (a walking 6-yard gain on first down) and Amari Rodgers (a strong option in the slot), the Tigers have been left without much direction.
You can count on one hand how often Swinney had anything to correct offensively during the Trevor Lawrence era when the Tigers were obliterating everything with the ACC insignia in their path. But now? Clemson is battling through what 90% of college football teams endure on a regular basis: play-calling issues, inconsistent quarterback play, lack of a run game and no tenacity along the offensive front.
Looking ahead to Saturday's game at N.C. State, the Wolfpack usually drop eight into coverage in their 3-2-5 look and will make Clemson move it on the ground. And in obvious throwing situations, NC State defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will likely follow the same script as Georgia and Georgia Tech against the Tigers: disguise coverages to confuse Uiagalelei, who will be making only his sixth college start.
Is this where we see Clemson's eight-game winning streak in the Textile Bowl come to end?
Valid Group of Five playoff paths
The strength of schedule argument usually trumps all when considering Group of Five teams for the College Football Playoff, but that's not going to hold much water this season if No. 8 Cincinnati keeps winning. Most were writing the Bearcats' obituary in the first half of last week's game at Indiana before Luke Fickell's squad owned the second half and took out one of two nonconference Power Five road games on the schedule.
As long as the AAC favorite keeps winning, Cincinnati can sit back and watch the rest of the top 10 bludgeon itself against other ranked teams during conference play and be sitting pretty when the CFP Selection Committee meets for a final time in early December.
It would help if Notre Dame's stance inside the top 15 holds as the season matures, assuming Cincinnati goes into South Bend, Indiana, and wins on Oct. 2. Coastal Carolina and Liberty, the other two Group of Five teams at the forefront now that UCF has lost, need a lot of help with no yellow brick road to a semifinal appearance.
The No. 18 Chanticleers can only rise so far with an unbeaten campaign given the cakewalk slate and the committee's view of CCU last season, but the Flames could potentially have a landmark win if they finished without a blemish.
You want New Year's Six chaos? Here it is: What happens if Ole Miss is 8-0 and ranked No. 1 with wins over Alabama, Arkansas, LSU and Auburn when Hugh Freeze comes to town in November? Count me in for Malik Willis vs. Matt Corral with the committee looking on. Liberty would be ranked somewhere in the high teens to lows 20s with a statement opportunity in Oxford, Mississippi.