On Saturday, SB Nation Dot Com The Website picked out nine potential Week 1 upsets for the college football year. Ole Miss-South Alabama topped the list, notwithstanding Ole Miss’ -24 points betting edge according to Vegas. Let’s think this through.
But first, let’s weigh out the factors and influences that could lead to a USA upset. The Jags did, after all, hilariously upend Mississippi State in last season’s opener — in Starkville — and many funny jokes were made. The Rebs should certainly think themselves not susceptible to such tragedy, but this is college football, after all.
As Alex Kirshner pointed out on Twitter, there are a handful of outside forces that might work against Rebel football on Sept. 2. The Jaguars beat Mississippi State and whipped the hell out of San Diego State — a very good football team that finished No. 33 in last season’s S&P+ rankings. Also, let’s not forget that it’s freaking Week 1 of the college football season. Remember how Ole Miss fared in Week 1 last year? That was fun.
In addition to USA housing some legitimately decent players, recall too that Ole Miss will be breaking in a brand new coach who took the helm just six weeks before the season opener. Matt Luke has of course coached in high level college football before, but coaching on a smaller scale over and against being the head man in charge before 60,000 screaming fans has a fundamentally different feel.
How can South Alabama upset Ole Miss, then?
Chaos. Ole Miss may very well be this year’s college football CHAOS TEAM, something we should all actively root for. But USA needs to create chaos all over the field to beat Ole Miss in Week 1.
It’s remarkable that the Jags were outplayed in virtually every advanced stats category when they upset Mississippi State last year. Little surprise that they needed a last-second field goal to seal the deal in Starkville. But the thing is, they weren’t thoroughly outplayed that day, and to be sure they thoroughly the Bulldogs in the second half comeback.
If you watched this game, it was a grunting, halting, slow-moving affair. The Jags and Bulldogs tallied up 380 and 389 yards, respectively. That ain’t a lot for a college football game. If USA wants to win in Oxford, the Jags will need to cause chaos — especially on both sides of the immediate line of scrimmage.
Wait, didn’t USA destroy San Diego State 42-24 last year?
They did, and it was GLORIOUS. The Jaguars racked up 351 total yards in this thing, but also managed to sack the Aztecs’ quarterback four times. What was SDSU’s offensive line even doing that day?
This is the sort of effort that USA needs to upend Ole Miss at home. The Rebs finished ranked No. 27 in last year’s S&P+ to SDSU’s No. 33. What really won this game for the Jags — and it happened in Mobile, mind — was passing. They were abysmal on the ground, getting out-rushed 6.28 to 3.26 in yards per carry. But passing? Oh boy the passing.
USA quarterback Cole Garvin — the damn backup — threw for 242 yards on 16-of-21 passing. That’s a 76 percent completion rate. San Diego State’s Christian Chapman threw 13-of-22 for 159 yards. That’s a 59 percent completion rate. Somehow, SOUTH ALABAMA’S BACKUP QB picked off the statistically 33rd best team in the country on Oct. 1 last year, and that’s actually kind of perfect.
In short, if this upset is going to happen, USA will have to stymy an Ole Miss offense rife with explosive weapons. The Jags will have to slow pace of play and disrupt the line of scrimmage and probably rip off a few weird plays and turnovers besides.
Basically, a college football game.