College football’s non-conference schedule never fails to out a few frauds

College football’s non-conference schedule never fails to out a few frauds

Now that the AP Poll is out, which preseason darlings will revert to pumpkins the fastest?

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Whether you’re in school or graduated, we’re conditioned from a young age to circle June through August with a big red sharpie and write “HAVE FUN” in big, bold letters, so when September hits, the dopamine from just seeing July before a date subsides. There is a consolation prize for summer ending though, and that is college football’s non-conference slate.

While we have to enjoy the matchups before all the conferences mutate into one or two jumbled masses, with limbs and orifices randomly placed on like a 3-year-old’s Mr. Potato Head, the nuance of an Alabama-Texas game hasn’t worn off yet. (But it surely will for Longhorns’ fans once they’ve had their faces ground into the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium for half a decade.)

Whoever the genius was who scheduled the Crimson Tide as an SEC amuse-bouche for Texas is about to get all the flavor they can handle for that bite. But UT isn’t the only school that bit off considerably more than it can chew — they’re just an obvious choice for “program most likely to be demoralized before Week 4.” Predicting that they’re going to get exposed is like guessing the color of my blood if I were to lop off a toe, and you’re not reading for takes as lukewarm as left out pizza.

So, of the teams in the AP Poll, who is at risk of being manhandled like an overzealous eighth grader unknowingly picking a fight with a high school wrestler? Let’s take a look at the first three weeks of the schedule and find out…

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No. 11 Oregon

No. 11 Oregon

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Opening the season with the defending National Champion in Atlanta is a bold move. New coach Dan Lanning’s first game is against the team he just left, and Georgia will be looking for anyone to sacrifice after starting the season No. 3. A ton of last year’s defense is now in the league, but Kirby Smart restocks that side of the ball as well as any coach not named Nick Saban.

And it’s not only the Dawgs that the Ducks have to worry about. Two weeks after that, BYU visits Eugene. The Cougars begin the season ranked themselves (No. 25), and have a top 10 matchup the week prior (more on that later). They also love playing Pac-12 foes, beating all five teams — Arizona, Arizona State, Washington State, USC, and 2022 preseason No. 7 Utah — they faced in 2021.

The Ducks have talent, and Auburn transfer quarterback Bo Nix brings experience, but Lanning will need every drop of both to avoid a disastrous start to his head coaching career.

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No. 5 Notre Dame

No. 5 Notre Dame

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I know, I know, they’re an independent, so every game technically counts as non-conference. Be that as it may, it’s still a non-conference game for Ohio State. I’m not quite Paul Finebaum-outraged about the Irish’s lofty sport in the AP Poll. The team won 11 games a season ago, and returns key starters on both sides of the ball.

Sophomore QB Tyler Buchner was officially named the guy a year after playing behind Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan. I mention that because the Badgers haven’t had a competent signal caller since Russell Wilson, and if you can’t outright beat their scraps, even as a freshman, I have serious reservations about the offense. Add in that Buchner’s QB1 debut is in Columbus and opposite CJ Stroud — 4,400-plus yards, 44 touchdowns, six interceptions in his one year at the helm of the Buckeyes — and there could be a lot of second-half air to fill.

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No. 17 Pitt

No. 17 Pitt

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Kenny Pickett is gone, and so is leading receiver Jordan Addison, who went to USC in a trade for QB Kedon Slovis. (Wait, that’s not what happened?) Regardless, the former Trojan is set to be the starter — oh, about that. Slovis appears to be in a heated competition with Nick Patti, who backed up Pickett the past few years and threw all of 19 passes a season ago.

This is all very concerning for a team whose defense hasn’t exactly been its key to success. In Week 2, Pitt hosts unranked Tennessee and Hendon Hooker. The fifth-year quarterback picked up Josh Heupel’s uptempo offense almost as fast as the coach runs it last season, and there’s no doubt who’s the guy in Knoxville.

The Vols gave Pitt everything they could handle a year ago, losing in a shootout, 41-34. Unless Slovis or Patti pick up where Pickett left off, life will come at Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi pretty quick.

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No. 10 Baylor

No. 10 Baylor

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Weird things happen in Provo after dark, and a kickoff at 9:15 p.m. Waco time/8:15 p.m. local time in Week 2 is ominous. Quarterback Blake Shapen looked fine in fill-in duty for the now transferred Gerry Bohanon a year ago, and the Bears appear to have another sizable safety net for him with every member of the defensive line returning.

That said, in Shapen’s three starts last year, Baylor’s offense had scoring outputs of 20, 27, and 21. Only one of those would’ve been enough to topple the Cougars in 2021, as it was Bohanon who orchestrated the team’s 38-24 win over BYU in the mid-October contest. Also, I’d feel a lot more comfortable if round 2 came at a similar point in the season as round 1, with Shapen having a few more warmups than just the Albany Great Danes before heading into a hostile stadium.

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No. 6 Texas A&M

No. 6 Texas A&M

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This is less ordaining Mario Cristobal as the coach who returns Miami to prominence, and more of a dry heave at all this love that the Aggies are receiving. Oh, cool, you caught Alabama on an off day, and now it’s OK for Jimbo Fisher to take shots at Saban? (Insult satan reincarnated all you want. I just think it’s a bad idea when he already wants your visor-adorned head on a spike.) How about winning 10 games first, and then bragging about your recruiting class? The Hurricanes have been abject failures for a couple of decades now, and they still have a more recent double-digit-win season than A&M.

The only reason the Aggies don’t hold the title belt for “most egregious underachiever” is because the Longhorns exist. Fisher’s best season since leaving Florida State for more money than God is 9-1, but if the COVID year doesn’t count (and, honestly, it shouldn’t), it’s 9-4. Max Johnson, Haynes King, Connor Weigman, a spliced clone of Tom Brady and Joe Montana — it doesn’t matter who’s under center. Give me the U and the money line.

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