The 2019 college football season is off to a tremendous start. Not only have we seen teams rise to contender status, but there have been a plethora of upsets thus far.
ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit joined us to discuss what has taken place over the first two weeks of the season. Over the course of the conversation, he discussed whether or not LSU can dethrone Alabama in the SEC West, how Justin Fields looks as the starting quarterback for Ohio State and which program can follow in Clemson’s footsteps.
The Spun: My first question for you goes back to the biggest game from this past weekend. Since Texas lost to LSU, would you revise your original College Football Playoff picks or are you confident in the Longhorns bouncing back?
Kirk Herbstreit: I mean there’s still plenty of time and opportunities for them in conference play. It wasn’t like they laid an egg in the game. I thought they competed and did everything they needed to do. They’re definitely not gone; I think they’re No. 12 in the AP poll. There’s still opportunity for them to have an outstanding year. They need to stay healthy, and obviously, they need to get a lot better.
You’re basically closing your eyes and throwing a dart at the board at trying to predict what will happen other than Clemson and Alabama. In the Big 12 you’re going to go either Oklahoma or Texas. I thought with Sam Ehlinger coming back there was a little more understanding of what’s expected from them because of what he did last year. The Big 12 Championship – if Texas and Oklahoma play again – could go a long way determining who ends up emerging and possibly having a shot to be one of the teams that makes the Playoff. But overall, I don’t think Texas did anything to destroy its hopes of getting into the Playoff.
The Spun: Moving over to the team that beat Texas on Saturday, LSU, do you believe the program finally has the firepower to take down Alabama with Joe Burrow and Joe Brady leading the offense?
KH: No question. That was an impressive effort against Texas. In a year with Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm, Trevor Lawrence, Sam Ehlinger, Ian Book and all these veteran quarterbacks, Joe Burrow isn’t usually thrown into the mix. After 60 minutes of football in Austin, I left with a very favorable impression of him and this new offense. To me, it’s more about can they continue to improve enough defensively to avoid having to be in an offensive shootout with Tua and Burrow going back and forth. But there’s no doubt that with that offense and the weapons they’ve had, I think they’ve made a statement to the nation, including Alabama and the SEC West, that it’s a new LSU and it’s a very different and more challenging LSU that teams are going to have to deal with.
Everybody RELAX it’s been 2 weeks!! Still VERY fluid week to week until we see more. RELAX. “Lighten Up Francis”
Tigers REWARDED for this win on the road!
— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) September 8, 2019
The Spun: Like you said, we’re only two weeks in, but looking at Ohio State, what are your early thoughts on Justin Fields and Ryan Day?
KH: Incredible. I really thought early that we might see him rely a little bit more on his legs as opposed to what we saw last year with Dwayne Haskins throwing it around, and he’s been incredible these first few weeks. The biggest thing is that he just looks in complete confidence of what he’s being asked to do – running and throwing. He hasn’t thrown an interception yet and he’s doing a good job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly. I think Ryan Day continues to show people that as a play caller he does a very good job of having versatility in his scheme and is able to call the game based on his quarterback’s strengths. With Justin Fields we’re seeing him not just drop back and throw, but also have an ability to run the ball. I think that’ll be something they’ll continue to grow with, but I don’t know if Ohio State fans out there could have envisioned it starting any better than what they’ve seen in these first two weeks.
The Spun: It’s been a great start to the season for Ohio State. As for another team in the Big Ten, Michigan, it had a little bit of a scare against Army. What do you think the Wolverines need to change moving forward?
KH: I don’t know if I could sit here and be that Monday morning quarterback and say, “You’re doing this or doing that. What the heck’s going on here?” First of all, I think you have to look at Army and what it’s been able to do against teams, whether that’s against Oklahoma last year or many others in bowl games. I mean that system is really tough. If they get a chance to convert on third downs and they possess the ball, it gets you into a little bit of a panic mode.
The line of scrimmage is probably the most glaring concern for me right now for Michigan. Everyone kind of expected them to have a veteran offensive line with all these guys back from last year. They’ve got to find a way to look at their offensive line and what they can do to try and get Shea Patterson into a rhythm because right now it’s almost like this offense is stuck in third gear. I think there’s great potential there, but they’ve not yet been able to find the equation or the answer to tap their potential. They have a bye week this week, so I think this would be a good time for them to go over where they can improve and take some pressure off of Patterson and the offensive line. I think the only way you can do that is with play-calling. Remember, Josh Gattis’ name made headlines, but this is the first time he’s ever called plays, and I think he’s still trying to find his comfort zone with this offense.
The Spun: Nebraska was great in the first half against Colorado but allowed a second-half surge. Where do you think Scott Frost is right now with his rebuild and how do you assess this team as conference play approaches?
KH: Yeah that was very surprising. I expected them to be able to go on the road and play the way they did early throughout the whole game. First of all, Colorado deserves credit. Mel Tucker is doing a good job in his first year there. Beyond that, if you’re a Nebraska fan, I think at one point they were up 17 at halftime and had complete control of the game. As much as Scott Frost prides himself on finishing, and there were games last year that they could have walked out of there with wins, to go on the road and have a 17-point lead slip through their fingers is as much mental as it is physical. I think Scott Frost looked at that and figured out what adjustments Colorado made and what they did not do. Speaking of mayhem, that was probably one of the crazier moments of the weekend with Colorado finding a way to come back after being down 17 to Nebraska.
The Spun: What team so far, if there’s one in particular you could pick out, has surprised you the most?
KH: Maryland – probably because of not only winning, but the way they’ve won games. I think people quite honestly forgot about the magnitude of the presence that Mike Locksley had on the Alabama offensive staff over the last few years. Now, he’s turned loose to become his own head coach. He inherits a quarterback in Josh Jackson, who comes over from Virginia Tech, and a really talented running back in Anthony McFarland. I don’t know if many people really even think about Maryland in the Big Ten East. They have to be one of the biggest surprises so far after a couple of weeks in college football.
The Spun: This is kind of a tough question here, but Clemson went from good to great under Dabo Swinney. Which program do you believe can make a similar jump in the next five years?
KH: Wow – that’s a tough one. I think Texas is kind of good, but I think in five years from now they’ll be on their way back to being great. People forget from 2000-2009, they were the winningest program in college football with Mack Brown.
I think they averaged around 11 wins per year, and they obviously haven’t been anywhere close to that since then. They would be one to go from very good already to potentially elite. This might be a little crazy, but I want to see what Mack Brown does at North Carolina. I know he’s a much older head coach, but all of a sudden, he’s got North Carolina excited and believing in what they’re doing. By the way, that’s tough to do what Dabo Swinney has done. You’re talking about something that, right now, they’re the standard in the sport. It’s very hard to predict where that next team could potentially come from, but if there’s anybody that could go from being really good to elite, I would put Texas in that category.
The Spun: College GameDay is going to be in Ames for the first time on Saturday. What are you looking forward to about that?
KH: Well, you could tell me because I’ve never been there. They look like they have an incredible fan base, and for our show, we love people that love the sport and especially love their team. It’s really not about what restaurants they have and what the weather is like. For me, it’s really about how much do they love their school, how much do they love their team, and how much do they want to show the nation that we have a great football team and student body. On the outside looking in, it looks like they [Iowa State] have that. I’ve seen it, especially in basketball and in the last couple of years in football. Before the season started, we looked at Week 3 and thought either Clemson at Syracuse – where we’ve never been – or Iowa at Iowa State. We were privately looking at Week 3 as a win. We’re anxious to see Ames and see what that show will look like on Saturday morning. I’m predicting it could be this year’s Washington State show. It was probably the most memorable show we had last year at Pullman.
AMESDAY IT IS!
For the first time ever, we're coming to Iowa State!
— College GameDay (@CollegeGameDay) September 8, 2019
The Spun: Going back to Clemson, what are your thoughts on Trevor Lawrence through the first two games? I know a lot of people are saying he’s not looking as sharp, but how do you think he’s handling the pressure?
KH: I don’t think he comes across as a guy that gets caught up in the pressure. So, I think that as the season goes along, you’ll see him getting more and more comfortable. The biggest challenge that not just Trevor Lawrence has but that Clemson as an entire team has, is when you have that many big names on an offense and you have so many people on the outside telling you how great you’re going to be, saying “Oh who are you playing this week? Oh, you’re going to kill them,” it’s really challenging. Even though Clemson is used to it, it’s really hard to not press and try making every play a 50-yard touchdown instead of taking the four-yard gain and then maybe hitting a big one.
So, I think for Clemson it’s just a matter of being patient, not feeling that you have to live up to any certain standard and just naturally take what the defense gives you. I’m not saying he’s [Lawrence] doing that, but in the past I’ve seen Deshaun Watson have to deal with that. Anytime you have huge success early in your career and then you get so much talk about “Oh, he’s a surefire Heisman guy,” it’s just human nature and there’s a tendency to try and make every play a big play.
The Spun: This year you’ve been doing weekly ‘Mayhem Moments.’ Tell me about your partnership with Allstate and what it’s all about?
KH: Yeah – I’ve been with Allstate for a number of years. Each year we come up with a little bit of a twist and different idea, and we’ve kind of had fun with the ‘Mayhem Moment’ of the weekend and we’ll continue to do that in a couple of different ways this year. On Tuesdays every week I’ll be trying to look at where there potentially could be mayhem. We just talked earlier that Colorado and Nebraska created some mayhem. Even Michigan and Army had some mayhem. This week on Tuesday I’ll send out a tweet from my Twitter handle looking for where that might be coming from in Week 3 and beyond. Tuesdays are more about predictions of where we might see some chaos and some fun. Then on Saturday night after all the dust has settled, we’ll look at where there was mayhem. Mayhem could be an upset, it can be a great individual performance, or it could be a crazy last play of the game.
Two top 10 teams with two outstanding QBs. It’s going to be a shootout between @LSUfootball and @TexasFootball, but something’s gotta give. Which one of these teams will come up with the @Allstate #MayhemMoment this week? #sponsored pic.twitter.com/vOjvJINuwb
— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) September 5, 2019
The Spun: Is there a game in Week 3 that you see as either a possible upset or mayhem?
KH: Just looking at things here early on a Monday, Washington State vs. Houston could be mayhem. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an upset, but it can be just a really competitive game that comes down to the very end. Stanford and UCF is one that could be interesting, and not to mention the Iowa State game in Ames has the potential for mayhem since there is a rivalry. The last one may be Florida and Kentucky. Florida has beaten Kentucky for so many years until last year when Kentucky got them. Now, they get them at home in Lexington. Kentucky is always looking for respect, and Mark Stoops will have his team fired up to play a top 10 team. Overall there’s some interesting games this weekend where we may have a few mayhem moments.
Herbstreit and the College GameDay crew will be in Ames, Iowa for a non-conference showdown between the Cyclones and the Hawkeyes. Expect his ‘Mayhem Moment’ of the week to come out on Twitter this week.
If you’re interested in reading more of our interviews with sports media stars, you can do so here.