Saturday Football: Vols' QB situation, B1G QB depth and Bo Nix's struggles
The Saturday Football newsletter goes out to subscribers up to 3 days a week and discusses the major events going on around the nation in college football. You can subscribe by clicking here.
Good morning and happy Wednesday! Yes, the Big Ten returns this weekend, which is huge news, but there’s good news for all you night owls, as well. No, #Pac12AfterDark won’t be back for a couple more weeks, but the Mountain West returns to action this weekend. Saturday’s slate of games includes three contests that kick off after 10 p.m. Eastern time!
In today’s newsletter, we’ll discuss a brewing QB controversy at Tennessee. We’ll also head to Auburn to dive into another less-than-ideal QB situation. And, to keep with the QB theme, we’ll also break down the Big Ten’s quarterbacks and which guys are in line to be the league’s No. 2 QB behind Ohio State’s Justin Fields. Let’s get started with today’s newsletter!
TENNESSEE QB SITUATION
Jarrett Guarantano has continued his inconsistent play. Is it time for Tennessee to make a QB change?
The Tennessee Volunteers have hit a bit of a speed bump the past two weeks. First, there was a loss to Georgia after the Vols took a lead into halftime. Then, on Saturday, they were absolutely trounced by Kentucky at Neyland Stadium, 34-7. The biggest issue in that game? The play of QB Jarrett Guarantano, who completed 14 of his 21 passes for a measly 88 yards, 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions (both of which were returned for Kentucky touchdowns).
As the Vols move forward, many are wondering if this team can reach its full potential in 2020 with Guarantano running the offense. Let’s look at some of Tennessee’s QB options and what people are saying:
- Let’s start with coach Jeremy Pruitt, who will make the decision. Freshman Harrison Bailey saw some action against Kentucky, completing 1-of-4 passes for 24 yards. Could he start against Alabama on Saturday? Pruitt didn’t rule it out in his postgame press conference on Saturday. On Monday, though, Pruitt seemed to indicate Guarantano would get the start against the Crimson Tide.
- Many are ready to make a switch, though, and Bailey is getting lots of hype. Star LB Henry To’o To’o hinted in a social media post that he hopes Bailey starts this week. Meanwhile, Saturday Down South’s Joe Cox writes that it’s more of a question of “when,” not “if,” Tennessee should make a QB change. SDS columnist Mark Nagi writes that Bailey is the future of the program, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the present answer to the Vols’ QB struggles.
- If not Bailey, who else could play quarterback for the Vols? Well, Brian Maurer got some work last year before injuries kept him out. There were rumors that he was transferring, but he quickly shot those down. So, he’s in the mix, too. JT Shrout came in and played against Kentucky, but his only pass attempt was intercepted and he didn’t see the field again. If Pruitt wants to go outside the box, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace jokingly offered to suit up at QB for the Vols. We’re not sure he’d want to make his debut against Alabama’s ferocious pass rush, though.
If the Vols hadn’t laid an egg against Kentucky, we wouldn’t be having these conversations. But, a promising 2-0 start to the season has quickly fallen off the rails and Guarantano is the obvious scapegoat. With Alabama coming to Rocky Top this weekend, we’ll likely see Tennessee with a 2-3 overall record come Sunday. Will Guarantano do enough to save his job? Or, will the week off after Alabama give the Vols an opportunity to explore other options at QB?
- We saw quite the showdown in the SEC on Saturday night. Georgia took a lead into halftime against Alabama, but the Crimson Tide offense was too much for the Bulldogs in the second half. In his weekly Monday Down South column, Matt Hinton breaks down the success of Alabama’s “plug-n-play” offense, Georgia QB Stetson Bennett IV’s struggles and key takeaways from all the other SEC games, too. In his weekly First and 10 column, Saturday Down South’s Matt Hayes wrote that as much fun as Bennett’s underdog story is, Saturday revealed Georgia can’t win a national title if he’s the starting quarterback.
- Alabama and Clemson are the top teams, but dark horses are out there. This will be an interesting season for the College Football Playoff committee, and we could see a surprising team sneak into the field of four teams. So, which teams are the most likely dark horse contenders? Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter named seven teams that could sneak into the Playoff.
- Ten years ago, Ohio’s mascot went viral for tackling Brutus the Buckeye. The incident became one of the best mascot fights in history, as Rufus the Bobcat gave Ohio fans something to laugh about before the Bobcats were trounced 43-7 by Ohio State. ESPN’s David Fleming did a deep dive into the fracas and it resulted in this hilarious look back at the viral moment.
- There are some coaches who have coached their way onto the hot seat. As 2020 rolls along, these guys need to pick up some wins or they could be looking for new jobs this offseason. Which coaches are on the hottest seats right now? Bleacher Report’s Brad Shepard takes a look at several FBS coaches who are in danger.
Justin Fields is getting a lot of Heisman hype. What’s the Big Ten’s QB situation behind the Ohio State star?
Maybe this is the 2020 talking, but it’s hard to remember a year quite as interesting for B1G quarterbacks as this season. This year’s class of QBs has everything from Heisman Trophy talent to solid starters to new kids on the block (no, not the band).
The conversation obviously begins and ends with Justin Fields, a player considered one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy this year. He’s also received the No. 1 spot in Ryan O’Gara’s QB Power Rankings on Saturday Tradition, though the race behind him is pretty deep. We could spend an entire section just talking about the second-year starter at Ohio State.
But because the B1G’s quarterback situation is so interesting and so unique, let’s dive into some other things to look for with Week 1 right around the corner:
- If there’s a QB more talked about than Fields, it’s Michigan’s Joe Milton. Seriously, and he hasn’t yet started a game for the Wolverines. It started during Big Noon Kickoff a few weeks ago when Urban Meyer compared Milton to Heisman winner Cam Newton. Nobody took that lightly. Kirk Herbstreit also says there’s “a lot to like” about the new QB in Ann Arbor, who could provide the team with the offensive spark it needs to get over the hump. And, as Saturday Tradition’s Adam Biggers writes, Milton is the guy who needs to have a big season for Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines to accomplish their goals in 2020 and beyond.
- A new era may also be starting at Wisconsin. Returning starter Jack Coan sustained a foot injury that required surgery, likely ruling him out for most, if not all, the 2020 season. That pushed redshirt freshman Graham Mertz into the spotlight, a job he says he’s been preparing for since Day 1. The former 4-star QB might give the Badgers the best chance to stretch the field and be more aggressive in the passing attack. Mertz doesn’t have to be an All-American for Wisconsin in his first season, though, as Saturday Tradition’s Erik Buchinger explains what a successful year would look like for the freshman.
- How about the unique situation at Nebraska? Scott Frost named Adrian Martinez the starter for the season opener against Ohio State, but the junior may not get a very long leash this year. Why? The head coach said that he believes the Huskers have “two first-stringers” between Martinez and Luke McCaffrey. Saturday Tradition’s Steve Marik writes that both are worthy of getting a shot, and there’s a chance we see both guys under center for the Huskers in 2020. To echo that point, new offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said that Nebraska can “win with both” QBs this fall.
- Of course, not everyone is ready to name a starter just yet? A handful of teams were willing to release their depth charts this week, but still have the “OR” listed for the job at QB1. Mel Tucker didn’t reveal who’s got the edge at Michigan State; Mike Locksley has a battle between Taulia Tagovailoa and Lance LeGendre at Maryland; and Rutgers is still stuck between returning starter Artur Sitkowski or former Nebraska QB Noah Vedral.
Oddly enough, there isn’t much talk about three really good returning starters in the B1G in 2020: Tanner Morgan (Minnesota), Sean Clifford (Penn State) and Michael Penix Jr. (Indiana). All three are second-year starters and, right now, all could challenge to be the second-best quarterback in the B1G this fall. Perhaps those three will get some respect and there will finally be more conversations about Morgan, Clifford and Penix after Week 1.
JUST FOR FUN
To celebrate the return of Mountain West football this weekend, let’s make that conference the subject of today’s quiz. Of the 12 teams in the conference, five (Boise State, Fresno State, San Diego State, San Jose State and UNLV) have the names of their home cities in their school name. But, there are seven teams that don’t have city names mentioned in the name of the university. So, today, we’ll give you those seven schools, as well as the seven cities in which they’re located. Your job? Match each school with its home city:
- Air Force
- Colorado State
- New Mexico
- Utah State
- A: Logan
- B: Honolulu
- C: Reno
- D: Laramie
- E: Colorado Springs
- F: Albuquerque
- G: Fort Collins
Scroll down to see the answers to today’s quiz.
Big things were expected of Auburn QB Bo Nix in 2020. Why isn’t he living up to the hype?
The Auburn Tigers are 2-2 on the season after a loss at South Carolina on Saturday. And, if not for a controversial ruling on this backwards spike by QB Bo Nix against Arkansas, the Tigers could very well be 1-3. Nix’s play has been inconsistent, at best. At worst, he’s regressed since a promising freshman campaign in 2019. If he can’t play better moving forward, Auburn might be in trouble.
So, can Nix turn it around? Or, is this the level of play we’re going to see moving forward? Does Auburn have any other options? Let’s take a look at the situation on The Plains:
- Nix’s erratic play continued against the Gamecocks, especially late. As Auburn was driving to potentially tie the game in the 4th quarter, Nix seemed to lose all situational awareness. With 9 seconds left, he ran out the clock on this ill-advised scrambling play that never came close to the end zone. Earlier in the game, frustrations with Auburn’s lackluster offense boiled over on the sidelines, as Nix and WR Seth Williams got into it.
- What’s crazy about Nix’s performance is that he’s good in Auburn. The splits for Nix between home and road games are incredible. At home during his career, he’s thrown for 11 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. On the road, it’s a different story, as he’s thrown 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions away from Jordan-Hare Stadium.
- Why does Auburn try to force Nix into a role he doesn’t seem comfortable with? Saturday Down South’s Thomas Schlarp writes that Nix is most effective when he passes the ball 20-25 times per game, which means promising freshman RB Tank Bigsby needs to become the focal point of the offense. Schlarp also discussed how Nix’s inconsistencies continue to hurt Auburn.
- So, now we come to the case of whether or not he’s regressed. SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic wouldn’t say Nix has regressed, but said it’s clear the sophomore hasn’t improved since 2019. And, Cubelic added, Nix needs to quit panicking when things break down. “Have you ever seen another quarterback that was great where every play was panic-induced?” he asked. “There never seems to be a moment of calm with Bo Nix.” An anonymous NFL scout told Saturday Down South’s Matt Hayes that Nix’s mechanics are a mess: “His mechanics are terrible,” the scout said. “I’ve never seen a guy throw across his body more than (Nix).”
Nix’s backup QB right now is Grant Loy, a graduate transfer from Bowling Green. Though not many are predicting Loy to usurp Nix’s starting job anytime soon, if Nix continues to hurt Auburn late in games, a change may be necessary. On Saturday, the Tigers play Ole Miss and the Rebels’ porous defense. Will this be just what the doctor ordered for Nix?
Here are the answers to today’s Mountain West geography matching game:
- 1E (Air Force — Colorado Springs)
- 2G (Colorado State — Fort Collins)
- 3B (Hawai’i — Honolulu)
- 4C (Nevada — Reno)
- 5F (New Mexico — Albuquerque)
- 6A (Utah State — Logan)
- 7D (Wyoming — Laramie)
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“We’ve won games around here where we go into the locker room and everybody just kind of — this is just what everybody expects. And I hate that.
“I hate to see that. I think everybody should enjoy every win. They’re hard to come by. The expectation sometimes gets to be, well you’re Alabama and you’re supposed to beat this team and if you don’t beat them a certain way then that’s not good enough, and I don’t really think that’s fair to the players. These guys work hard. They put a lot into it. And I love to see them enjoy themselves when they have success. So I was very happy to see the players so happy.”
— Alabama coach Nick Saban danced in the locker room with his players after beating Georgia. After that clip went viral, Saban weighed in on it on Monday. It’s great to see coaches embrace the fun side of football.
TWEET OF THE DAY
Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin had a good sense of humor after the Rebels threw 6 interceptions in a loss to Arkansas on Saturday. Three of those picks were by Hudson Clark, who earned a scholarship for his performance. Kiffin was classy enough to congratulate Clark on Twitter in classic Kiffin fashion.