It’s always advisable to avoid large assumptions after college football’s Week 1. This maxim is rare: It’s mostly agreed upon by coaches, analysts, statisticians, and even players. Of course, every September everyone knowingly and willfully ignores this in the name of hype, and it almost always backfires in hilarious fashion.
But most everyone gets it: This is a highly volatile sport in its base setting, with no preseason and a penchant for sudden change. Accordingly, in 2020 [waves at everything], every week is essentially Week 1.
This is not the year to create context. This is not the year to draw sweeping conclusions, at least based on what happens in the football parts of football. One of the best programs currently playing refuses to disclose COVID testing figures. A Navy team that finished 11-2 last year lost its opener to BYU 52-0 after its coaching staff decided against live tackling in practice to help guard against potential transmission. The very first game played in August featured a linebacker trotted out as long snapper because of quarantine restrictions on travel.
Consider Georgia Tech’s 16-13 spoiling of Mike Norvell’s Florida State debut, your typical Week 1 exercise in narrative-building: Is Tech “back,” just one year removed from Paul Johnson’s triple option, or is Florida State, who lost four offensive linemen during the game, still in shambles after Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart? Remember that the ‘Noles made a lot of people think an eventual 6-7 Virginia Tech team was something special after Taggart’s debut.
Now add the additional mitigating circumstances of 2020 to the “how good is Tech / bad is FSU” exercise: Just like Navy’s abdication of tackling, Tech head coach Geoff Collins said after the game the team didn’t run full kicking drills because of virus concerns. The Yellow Jackets had two field goals and a PAT blocked. Was this game a one-possession “upset” or a hidden “statement win”?
This will be a season of bad faith assumptions and terrible context creating messy conclusions if the data points are utilized as anything other than outliers. That of course won’t happen — one program has already “parted ways” with its coach based in large part on how his team looked after one game in 2020.
There is a need among fans and professionals to draw inferences, to build conclusions and gather up facts in defense of an idea. To some degree this is a natural behavioral pattern. So if you need to surmise something in 2020, I can offer one certainty free of any pandemic-era qualifier or context:
Kansas football is forever broken.
The Jayhawks lost at home on Saturday night to Coastal Carolina, 38-23, and at one point trailed 28-0 before kicking a field goal as time expired in the first half. This was the second win over KU in as many seasons for the Chanticleers, both over new head coach Les Miles. Miles was brought to Lawrence by his Michigan buddy, A.D. Jeff Long, to resurrect its moribund football program; through 13 games, he now has as many losses to Group of Five programs at home as he does FBS wins as KU’s head coach.
This is not a referendum on Miles or Long. This is not a dogpile on the Big 12, which suffered a trio of losses to the Sun Belt on its opening weekend. But those games — Kansas State losing at home to Arkansas State and ranked Iowa State getting thumped by upstart Louisiana — are subject to interpretation, to 2020 context. Kansas getting dragged is a lighthouse, an anchor, a steady hand to balance oneself in an ever increasing world of uncertainty: The Jayhawks are inexplicably bad. We know this and it has not changed.
Through four head coaches and a variety of on-field systems, Kansas has been so easily attainable a P5 pelt for G5 programs that the excitement of such an upset is wearing off. In eight of the last ten years the Jayhawks have lost to either a G5 or FCS opponent (or both). Kansas is 4-10 against Group of Five since 2011; in the same span the Jayhawks are 2-3 in Power 5 non-conference games.
That’s how bad it is: You could make a convincing argument that it’s smarter for KU to schedule equally woeful P5’s like Rutgers and Boston College, both of whom the Jayhawks beat on the road in recent years, than bringing in a perennially humming mid-tier program like Louisiana Tech or Central Michigan.
But you could even argue it’s smarter for KU to seek out a fellow P5 doormat than schedule G5 flotsam like Rice or the Chanticleers (who have yet to post a winning season in FBS ball) since both schools have swept KU in the last ten seasons. And despite recent losses to FCS programs Nicholls and South Dakota State, the Jayhawks are 6-2 vs. FCS teams in this timespan. So while their original opener New Hampshire cancelled their season, it would’ve been far more prudent to find any other FCS team to play rather than Coastal Carolina. (That or Rutgers.)