On our most recent episode of the Across The Pond College Football podcast, I was delighted to be joined by Daniel Shirley, Senior College Football Editor for The Athletic, who was kind enough to talk to me for Saturdays Feed My Soul last year. I've shared some highlights in a series of blogs, two to be published today, Here's the first, some highlights of our discussions on key season storylines so far, and his thoughts on teams that have surprised, and some who may have fallen short.
What have been the headlines of the season so far?
"Well, I think you have to start with Deion Sanders in Colorado. I know they've lost the last couple, but I've never seen a single team dominate the storylines for a month. Oregon beat them pretty bad. USC beat them this past week, and things have kind of cooled off a little. For an entire month of September and going into October, the storyline in college football was Deion Sanders and Colorado, and I didn't see that coming. They won one game last year, so it'd be hard for them to win three games and to just dominate the landscape and dwarf everything. The TV ratings say it, the page views on our website say it. At The Athletic, if we wrote something with Deion Sanders in the headline, it was going to get a ton of page views.
I think he's great for the sport. I do. You could talk about the portal and how that happened three years from now, I don't think he's going to build the team with the portal like that. They're going to recruit like crazy and why wouldn't you want to go play for him and that staff? He did what he had to do and he had the panache to get guys to want to come play for him and do it this way this first year.
I think personalities are great for the sport, and I think he's a heck of a coach. For all the brashness and all the chatter, all the talking, they're backing it up, and I think they're more of an old school coaching staff than some people would have thought that, oh, well, this is just all flash and no substance."
Do you think he'll be at Colorado in three years?
"I do. Unless a top, top program comes and says, come be our guy, why would he leave Colorado to go to another program that's kind of similar, like if Alabama comes calling or Florida State where he played or USC, or an NFL team comes think he might jump. But no, I think there's a lot of people who think this is kind of a short term deal that I think he's invested. I think his plan is to coach for a long time and to really build something. And again, I think you'll see maybe some more non-traditional paths to coaching as we're starting to see. And look, he's coached before. It's not like he wasn't involved in coaching, but it's not like you got to go be an assistant for 20 years and then get a head coaching job. I think he's proven that this year."
"I think it's (the season's) kind of become some parity. I mean, who's great? Is Georgia really number one? I know they're undefeated, they're going for a third straight title, but are they really the best team out there? I think a lot of people might say Texas, and if Texas wins Saturday, it might have two of the best wins in the country. It might be hard to keep Texas from being ranked number one if they beat Oklahoma."
Which teams are you really excited about watching, who could advance and make an impression on the playoff?
"Well, I picked Michigan to win the whole thing at the start. Michigan hasn't played the kind of schedule yet that it's going to play. So we'll see what Michigan will become. I'm surprised how cleanly Penn State has played, and they didn't play as well in the first half against Northwestern, but they've taken care of business against some overmatched teams.
Georgia has stumbled a little bit and we saw it first half against South Carolina, we saw it against Auburn. Notre Dame's coming off a loss to Ohio State a couple of weeks ago, they did win last week, but I think Notre Dame's got a chance to get back into it. Ohio State are kind of the usual suspects, but I really am impressed with Texas. I was one of those folks who said about Texas, I've got to see it before I believe it. For them to go to Alabama and win and not just win, but win the way they did, where they kind of dominated both lines of scrimmage, we haven't seen that from Texas in a long time. They've got an offensive line that looks like it's filled with NFL guys.
There's other teams that jump out. I saw Florida State first hand against Clemson two weeks ago. Felt like Clemson really kind of controlled the whole game, but Florida State found a way to win. I think that right now I would say Michigan, Texas, Florida State are really the three teams not surprising me, but who have really kind of jumped out at me the most."
What do you make of Washington?
"I'm glad you brought up Washington because I thought the first game of the season, they played Boise State and I thought Boise State might have a chance to win that game. And halfway through the first quarter I said, Boise doesn't have a chance. Washington’s offence is really good. Michael Penix Jr. Is playing really well. I know a lot of teams in this day and age of college football like to kind of dink and dunk and throw it short. But no, they're going to throw it deep and they're going to go after you. And I think that's a fun way to play football.
Washington is definitely a team to keep an eye on. And that entire Pac-12, all those quarterbacks, it's fun to watch."
On the upcoming Oregon-Washington game…
"I think that Oregon - Washington game next week is going to be something to see. I've kind of known about Bo (Nix) a little bit. His grandfather used to coach as a high school coach here in Middle Georgia.
His dad Patrick played at Auburn and you kind of knew about them for a little bit. Obviously things didn't go for Bo the way he wanted to at Auburn, but things are going well at Oregon. Just imagine the showdowns at quarterback with those two and Caleb Williams. When all those teams play each other, it's really going to be fun to watch."
Which teams haven’t performed as well as expected?
"I'm a little surprised by Alabama and the loss to Texas, but it seems like they've bounced back a little bit. They've won three straight. The defense is playing better. The quarterback situation surprised me. It felt like they panicked a little bit when they made the change at South Florida, but it seemed like it worked. Maybe Nick Saban did that on purpose and to prove that those other two guys weren't ready.
Clemson have lost to two pretty good teams but to lose at Duke the way they played and to lose that game to Florida State, it felt like they had the game under control for most of the game and didn't win it. Turnovers have really hurt Clemson.
Tennessee was a team that had a lot of hype coming in after last year and struggled a little bit at Florida.
I think all three of those teams are really good teams but they've already got losses and it feels like they're kind of been pushed to the side a little bit."
"They made the change with the offence, going with Garrett Riley. We're seeing that they're a much better team now than they were against Duke. They lost to the number four team in the country in overtime and never trailed during regulation. I don't think you can say Clemson is done because it lost to Florida State but it does feel like it's a transition a little bit for that program. I think they've got a lot of young talent on the team, especially quarterback and the wide receivers and on the defense there's a lot of young talent. There's a chance there next year for them to get right back into it. To be honest they could have been there last year. If they didn't lose to South Carolina, they're in the playoff.
What would the storyline be now? They lost three games last year. There's 120 teams that would have loved to have been 11-3.
I think Klubnik has really improved since the Duke game. He looks like a different quarterback now. Even in the loss to Florida State. I thought he played brilliantly. He did have the fumble when he got sacked. Other than that, I thought he played really well and I thought he played well Saturday at Syracuse. When they go to the twelve-team playoff next year, I think Clemson's right back in the hunt to be in a playoff team every year."
What do you think of the new twelve-team college football playoff coming in next year?
"I love it. Let's say Clemson this year is Clemson next year, right. If this was Clemson in 2024, Clemson is still very much in the hunt because still on their schedule, they've got Notre Dame, North Carolina, Miami, and they've got NC State. Those are pretty good teams, and if they were to win out, they could sneak in. Although they're not going to be one of the top four, they're going to be one of those teams where you're that hot team at the end of the year, right, and you're that team nobody wants to play. There's going to be one or two of those teams in college football where maybe they lose a couple of games in September, but then they go on a run and then by the end of November, they're 10-2 and you go, boy, I don't want to play them. I don't want them coming to my stadium for a first-round game. I can't wait.
I think it's a great development. When those playoff teams get going in the FCS, it really builds up in the community. If there's a team like, let's say Georgia, somehow Georgia isn't one of the top four and it has to play a game at home. I can't wait to see that environment. I don't think that's going to happen very often to Georgia, where it's not one of the top four, right. But when you see a playoff game at Georgia, Notre Dame, Ohio State or USC, I just I think it's going to be outstanding for the sport. I think the ratings are going to be through the roof and it's just going to take college football to another level.
It's going to be on campus, too. Like we said, there's nothing better in my sporting life that I've been to than walking on a college football campus. And I mean, I love the Masters. I've been so many times to the Masters, I've been to the Indy 500, I've been to baseball playoff games, I've been to NCAA tournament games, all that. Nothing is like being on a campus for a college football game. And to see what that's going to look like in December for playoff games, I think is going to blow people's minds."
On college football in Georgia…
"It's the A for us in Georgia. If you're a Georgia fan, or a Georgia Tech fan, or Georgia Southern, or Georgia State, even here in Macon at Mercer, it really means something. Mercer restarted their program in 2013, and I remember being at the first game, and I'd been at Mercer for basketball. I wrote a book about it recently when they beat Duke in the NCAA Tournament. Walking on that campus for the first game, I remember telling our son Matt, who was twelve at the time, it feels like a different campus because now they have college football. it's different with college football. It's just everything - the passion, the tailgating, the camaraderie. I know for me, growing up, going to Clemson games, my dad had the same tickets for ten to twelve years.
I like what I've seen with Georgia Tech. Until this past Saturday, things kind of got a little rough. I think Brent Key is the right man for that job. He played there, he coached there, he knows the lay of the land, he's got a good system in place. I think they're recruiting better and they just look better coached. I know Saturday didn't play out, but they beat Wake Forest the week before, so I thought that was an impressive win for them and it just feels like they're building something. It's going to take time because it was kind of torn down to the studs when he took over. Georgia Southern I thought has been really impressive. That coaching staff came in last year and had to make some huge changes from a running option, kind of a team that barely threw the ball to a team that threw it a lot last year.
I think Georgia State has gotten off to a pretty good start. So it's been a good start for us with those four teams in the state. Obviously, Georgia is the main focus, being the two time champion and undefeated and ranked number one, all those things. But there are some pretty good teams, other pretty good teams as well."
Across The Pond College Football
The full podcast featuring my chat with Daniel this week, is all here. Please have a listen...