Dear Andy: Top Power 5 college football matchups to watch in Week 1

One conference announced a major change Wednesday, and you have questions …

Note: Submitted questions have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

With the ACC considering unequal revenue distribution, shouldn’t the kings of the Big Ten and SEC take a hard look at this too when their TV deals are up for renewal? While drastic, Ohio State, Alabama and others could tell the Northwesterns and Vanderbilts that if they are not willing to take less, the Kings will simply move on and create a new conference with the best of both leagues. — Michael, Atlanta

The ACC announced on Wednesday that its schools have approved a performance-based revenue incentive plan that will provide more money to the schools whose teams win on the field and bring in more money to the conference through championship participation. This is an olive branch to Clemson and Florida State — the only two full members to make the College Football Playoff or win a football national title this century. This is a better way to handle this topic than “We think you’re a bigger brand so we’ll give you more money” because it allows a school such as Wake Forest, which has invested in football and found success on the field, a chance to earn that money.

But it also won’t cover much of the $30 million a year (at least) shortfall between the ACC’s distribution and the SEC’s distribution that will begin in 2024. So, as we discussed here last week, it won’t solve the biggest problem for programs such as Florida State and Clemson which have to compete against the SEC’s best for players.


Ubben: Why unequal revenue sharing won’t save the ACC

Unfortunately, unequal revenue sharing rarely solves the problem it’s supposed to. Everything Michael writes makes perfect sense, but I can offer a one-sentence argument for keeping revenue distribution equal in the Big Ten and SEC.

Leagues that have used an uneven revenue distribution plan have faced existential threats because of issues created by uneven revenue distribution.

The Big 12 feels remarkably collegial now. It felt like the Hunger Games back when the league distributed revenue unevenly. Friction between Texas, Nebraska and Texas A&M frequently simmered. Missouri kept looking for ways out. Meanwhile, USC’s beef with the Pac-10/12 multiplied when that league went away from its uneven revenue share after adding Colorado and Utah and creating the Pac-12 Network. Those concerns never were addressed to USC’s satisfaction, and the Trojans made a plan to leave the first chance they got.

Congratulations to Michael for finding a different way to ask the “When are the Big Ten and the SEC going to drop Indiana and Vanderbilt” question I seem to get weekly. But I don’t think those leagues will drop anyone, and I don’t think they’ll change the way they distribute revenue. They’ve seen where that leads, and the stability those two leagues currently enjoy is among the most valuable assets they possess.

Clemson opens the 2023 season on Sept. 4 at Duke. (Ken Ruinard / USA Today)

Hi Andy, there are 11 Power 5-versus-Power 5 games on opening weekend. Some of the teams have new coaches, some ended the season on a bad note and others are trying to build off momentum from last season. Could you rank the most important games of opening weekend and the potential implications for the winners or losers? Thanks, Drew

No one is getting fired or landing on the hot seat based on these games, but it’s an interesting mix of conference tone-setters and nonconference eye-openers. So let’s get ranking.

11: Northwestern at Rutgers

As expected, Greg Schiano has made Rutgers better. What didn’t we expect? Northwestern to fall so far after winning the Big Ten West in 2020. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald and his staff need to prove they can be competitive with the likes of the Scarlet Knights, or the situation could feel even more hopeless.

10: Louisville vs. Georgia Tech at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta

The Brent Key era at Georgia Tech and the Jeff Brohm era at Louisville kick off a few miles from the Yellow Jackets’ home stadium. Everything is new, so expect us to use this one little data point to wildly speculate on how each coach’s tenure will go. (At least for a week.)

9: Virginia at Tennessee

If Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton looks as sharp in the season-opener as he did in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, I’m probably going to drive the Heisman bandwagon to Knoxville to pick up Milton.

8: West Virginia at Penn State

As we discussed on the podcast this week, Penn State has a roster that might be capable of breaking the Michigan-Ohio State chokehold on the Big Ten. But do not discount the entertainment possibilities of Y.O.L.O Neal Brown. The West Virginia coach knows he’s gone if this season goes badly, so expect him to pull out all the stops to get a signature win.

7: Ohio State at Indiana

The Buckeyes will be heavily favored, but the nation will tune in to see which quarterback — Kyle McCord or Devin Brown — will get to throw to the nation’s top receiving corps.

6: Clemson at Duke

If you think this game is ranked too high, you’ve told on yourself. You didn’t watch the nine-win(!) Blue Devils in coach Mike Elko’s first season. I can’t wait to see Elko match wits with new Clemson offensive coordinator Garrett Riley.

5: Nebraska at Minnesota

The Matt Rhule era at Nebraska begins in Minneapolis, where P.J. Fleck fields exactly the type of team Rhule will need to prove he can beat. This game was close last year with Nebraska playing for an interim staff. Expect us to wildly overreact no matter the result.

4: South Carolina vs. North Carolina in Charlotte

Spencer Rattler versus Drake Maye is a fun QB matchup right out of the gate. Both are playing for new offensive coordinators. Who will need less time to work out the kinks?

3: Florida at Utah

Florida’s win against Utah in last year’s season opener didn’t foretell a booming first year for coach Billy Napier. (Though it did launch QB Anthony Richardson’s path to the first round.) The rematch at Rice-Eccles Stadium will give Napier a chance to provide some much-needed hope. But the two-time defending Pac-12 champ Utes have the roster to crush that. Star-tight end Brant Kuithe should be back from injury. QB1 Cam Rising, who went down in the Rose Bowl against Penn State, is still a question mark.


Kyle Whittingham on Cam Rising’s return, Utah’s season and his coaching bucket list: Q&A

2: Colorado at TCU

You may say you’re sick of Deion Sanders coverage, but we see the traffic numbers he generates. You’re going to tune into this one. We should learn fairly quickly how much Sanders elevated Colorado’s talent because TCU — new offense and all — should steamroll the Buffaloes if they’re near the 2022 level. If Colorado is better, then it could get interesting against a team that had to be retooled after losing a lot of key contributors from a roster that made the national title game last season.

1: LSU vs. Florida State in Orlando

These teams played a thriller last season in New Orleans (won by the Seminoles) that actually wound up launching renaissance seasons for both programs. This time, both come in with massive expectations. I’d expect a much cleaner game than that 2022 matchup, but I hope it’s just as fun.

The excellent Athletic pieces last week on Deion’s roster flip and tampering in the portal look like two parts to a future new strategy. I went to a midlevel SEC school that usually has a recruiting class around No. 25. Is our best chance to win this cold-blooded plan: spend time raising a $40 million-$50 million NIL war chest, clear out 50 roster spots, then make Godfather offers to the All-Big 12 and All-ACC teams? Adjusted for inflation and growth of the sport, this can’t be a much bigger investment than what SMU did in the 1980s and is now more within the rules. Plus, I’d rather donate money that goes to athletes rather than twice that much for a Jimbo. Will any school ever try this? — Hugh in Allen, Texas

The SMU part made me laugh. Does anyone remember how much the NCAA caught SMU paying before delivering the Death Penalty? It was $61,000 to 13 players over a two-year period. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $166,000 in today’s dollars. Now, it’s probably true that the $61,000 is only what the NCAA felt it could prove. Paying players in the 1980s was pretty much a cash or in-kind business. But let’s say the actual amount was 10 times as much. A $1.6 million NIL war chest probably wouldn’t fund the needs of a mid-level Big 12 program today.

Of course, a major reason that number is so low is that black markets tend to pay less than open markets because of the risk involved.

So, let’s tackle the main thrust of Hugh’s question but adjust the numbers. A $40 million-$50 million fund would buy a program a national championship contender because the program could simply make the best players in the country offers they couldn’t refuse — regardless of where they currently play — but even the most well-heeled programs don’t have donors willing to fork over that kind of money for NIL.

Hugh is correct, however, that the midlevel SEC school would have to overpay. There are two reasons for this:

• If they’re succeeding at their old school, it will take more to make them leave.

• If they do decide to leave, it will take more to keep them from transferring to top-level Big Ten or SEC schools that compete for national titles and frequently produce first-round draft picks.

A more realistic number probably is around $15 million annually. This would be at the top of what the biggest programs could sustainably raise at the moment. But I still don’t think it would annually produce a team that could compete with what Georgia is putting on the field at the moment.

Why? Chemistry and learning curve.

When Ari Wasserman and I visited Lane Kiffin at Ole Miss last year, Kiffin was pretty up-front about the potential downside of fielding a majority-portal team. It’s difficult to set and sustain a culture with players coming in from elsewhere and not staying long. Team chemistry becomes far less predictable when the team is made up of people from various places who came because they sought the biggest bag. Meanwhile, it’s much more difficult for players to master various schemes when they or most of their teammates are new to said schemes.

To put it in NFL terms, building through the draft usually will beat building through free agency. (Even the Los Angeles Rams, who won a Super Bowl two seasons ago with a lot of free-agent pieces, would be willing to admit they wouldn’t have gotten there without homegrown stars Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp.) Georgia, for example, has offensive linemen who are growing into starting roles in Year 3. They weren’t sitting around those first two seasons. They were learning the offense they’ll block at Georgia. Meanwhile, most of the high-schooler’s Georgia signs are evaluated by the coaching staff for months in terms of how they’ll fit into Georgia’s culture personality-wise. At last year’s Peach Bowl media day, Bulldogs defensive coordinator Will Muschamp explained that Georgia coaches want high school recruits to visit multiple practices to understand exactly how they’ll be coached if they choose Georgia. That way, there are no surprises when those players arrive on campus.

Portal recruiting, on the other hand, is speed-dating. Unless a staff thoroughly evaluated a player during that player’s high school recruitment, it’s unlikely either party really knows what they’re getting.


The Race for the Portal King: Can Coach Prime dethrone Lincoln Riley, Lane Kiffin?

This seems to be most important when it comes to the large people, and if you’ve been reading this space long enough, you know the large people are the most important people in a football program. Let’s go back to Ole Miss, where Kiffin has the nickname “Portal King.” While he has dipped frequently into the portal — you can even hear a great interview with a former James Madison edge rusher Kiffin just landed on Friday’s podcast — Kiffin still wants to build through high school recruiting. The five projected starters on the Rebels’ offensive line for 2023 all started their college careers in Oxford. They’ll block for Quinshon Judkins, a star back the Ole Miss staff identified and recruited from Montgomery, Ala. (Judkins presumably stands to make some serious NIL money in order to keep him away from the programs that misevaluated him the first time around.) This is not an accident.

Hugh asked if any school would ever try an annual transfer-portal flip funded by NIL money. Someone might, but it won’t work for the reasons I outlined above. Midlevel programs absolutely can improve their rosters with sharp, targeted portal recruiting and wise NIL spending, but they still need to build their base — literally, the actual biggest pieces — through high school recruiting.

A Random Ranking

Travis wants me to rank 90s movie soundtracks. He helpfully included a ranking of his own, but we disagree on a few. Note, these albums don’t contain only songs from the 90s, but all the movies were released in the 90s.

1. “Friday”
2. “Can’t Hardly Wait”
3. “Waiting To Exhale”
4. “The Lion King”
5. “Singles”
6. “Boomerang”
7. “Reality Bites”
8. “The Bodyguard”
9. “Wayne’s World”
10. “Judgment Night”

(Top photo: Melina Myers / USA Today)