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Monday Measure: Texas A&M's uninspiring opener, Georgia's QB carousel, and keep an eye on ... Pitt?

Nick Bromberg and Sam Cooper
·8-min read

A common refrain throughout the offseason was to look out for Texas A&M in the SEC West.

Texas A&M was entering Year 3 under Jimbo Fisher and 2020 was going to be the year that Fisher’s efforts on the recruiting trail were really going to start manifesting on the field.

If what the Aggies displayed on Saturday night against lowly Vanderbilt was supposed to be evidence of that progression, Fisher’s program has much further to go than any A&M fan will ever want to admit.

Texas A&M managed to barely eke out a 17-12 win over the Commodores, a team many expect to go winless over the course of its brutal SEC-only schedule. From his time at Florida State, Fisher has the reputation as some sort of offensive innovator. On Saturday night, the Aggies looked mostly lifeless. Quarterback Kellen Mond, now a senior, continued to show that he may not ever live up to his billing as a five-star recruit.

Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher, left, talks with quarterback Kellen Mond (11) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher talks with quarterback Kellen Mond during the first half against Vanderbilt. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Mond completed 17-of-28 throws for just 189 yards. His lack of progression was on display yet again. He missed throws any supposed upper-tier SEC quarterback should make, and he fumbled twice. His botched exchange with running back Isaiah Spiller with 4:56 to play gave Vanderbilt a shot to take a lead late in the fourth. Luckily for Mond, he was bailed out by his defense, which overwhelmed a thoroughly overmatched Vanderbilt offense.

But the fact that the game was that close — A&M was favored by more than 30 points — has to be tremendously concerning for Aggies fans, especially knowing what lies around the corner. Next on the schedule is a trip to Tuscaloosa to play No. 2 Alabama on Saturday.

The university gave Fisher a 10-year, $75 million guaranteed contract to take the Aggies from a middle-of-the-pack SEC program to one that competes for national championships. With a mediocre 10-7 record in conference play and just one win over a Top 25 SEC opponent, that investment has not yielded much of anything so far.

- Sam Cooper

Georgia’s QB parade

The fifth year of Kirby Smart’s tenure at Georgia began on Saturday. And despite having a near-three-year starter in Jake Fromm in his first four years with the school, there’s been an abundance of turnover in the Georgia quarterback room.

And that turnover was apparent on Saturday.

D’Wan Mathis started for the Bulldogs but didn’t make it through the first half as the UGA offense was stagnant. He was replaced by Stetson Bennett, who ended up a serviceable 20-of-29 passing for 211 yards and two touchdowns in the 37-10 win over Arkansas.

Bennett, a former walk-on, began the summer fourth on the depth chart behind Jamie Newman, J.T. Daniels and Mathis. The QB room looked pretty crowded.

It didn’t stay that way. Newman, a graduate transfer from Wake Forest, decided to opt out before the season began. That seemingly left the starting job to the USC transfer Daniels, but he wasn’t medically cleared to play on Saturday as he continues his recovery from a knee injury he suffered with the Trojans.

And now, with a visit from No. 7 Auburn looming, Smart will have a decision to make about his starting quarterback. Does he go back to Mathis, or stick with Bennett? Or will Daniels be able to make his UGA debut? A few months ago, nobody would have believed that this would be the dilemma for Georgia just one week into the season.

But then again, Georgia is accustomed to quarterback shuffling.

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - SEPTEMBER 26:  Head Coach Kirby Smart of the Georgia Bulldogs on the sidelines during a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on September 26, 2020 in Fayetteville, Arkansas  The Bulldogs defeated the Razorbacks 37-10.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
Georgia struggled early in its opener against Arkansas, but eventually pulled away and won 37-10. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

Newman’s decision not to play at Georgia made him the third high-profile QB to leave the program in the past four seasons. Jacob Eason was the starter as a freshman in Smart’s first season with the Bulldogs but suffered a knee injury in the 2017 season opener. That paved the way for the Fromm era to begin and Eason never got his job back. He transferred to Washington ahead of the 2018 season.

Georgia signed Justin Fields in its 2018 recruiting class. Fields was a five-star recruit and the No. 2 QB in the country behind Trevor Lawrence. But he famously spent just one season at Georgia playing sparingly behind Fromm and is now, as you know, at Ohio State. In his first year with the Buckeyes, Fields finished as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

The great news for Georgia is that Smart has been able to consistently attract top-tier quarterbacks to his team despite so much turnover. The team signed four-star freshman Carson Beck in the class of 2020 and five-star QB Brock Vandagriff — the No. 1 pro-style QB — is committed in the class of 2021.

But that ability to get so many good QBs to sign also comes with the price of transfers. Mathis was a four-star recruit in the class of 2019 and the No. 3 dual-threat QB in his class. While it’s entirely possible that the 2021 roster will include Daniels, Mathis, Beck and Vandagriff, the chances of at least one transfer among that group aren’t insignificant.

- Nick Bromberg

Keep an eye on Pitt in the ACC

Miami has justifiably gotten the most early season buzz among the ACC teams that can compete with Clemson and Notre Dame for a possible conference title.

But what about Pittsburgh?

Pitt improved to 3-0 with a 23-20 home win over Louisville, and did so with another stifling defensive effort. The high-powered Cardinals offense was averaging more than 500 yards per game over its first two games. Pitt held UL to just 223 yards, forcing three turnovers in the process.

Malik Cunningham had a miserable afternoon. He completed just nine of his 21 throws for 107 yards and was intercepted three times by Pitt defenders. To make matters worse, he was sacked seven times, including three from senior defensive end Patrick Jones II.

It was easy to overlook Pitt’s first two opponents: Austin Peay and Syracuse. But the way the Panthers smothered a respected offense like the one Louisville has consistently exhibited under Scott Satterfield should make everybody take notice.

Through three games, Pitt is allowing just 177 yards of offense per game, including 3.24 yards per play. The Panthers’ perceived strengths entering the season were defensive line and secondary. Even after Jalen Twyman, the team’s top defensive lineman, opted out to prepare for the NFL, those assessments of Pitt’s talent have proven to be true.

Looking ahead, Pitt’s next two games are very winnable: vs. NC State and at Boston College. Later in October, though, is when the fun begins. In back-to-back weeks, the Panthers will travel to Miami on Oct. 17 and host Notre Dame on Oct. 24. Miami will head on the road to face No. 1 Clemson in the interim, so Pitt could move ahead of the Hurricanes in the ACC standings before their highly anticipated matchup.

If Pitt wants to realistically compete for an ACC crown, though, it needs to improve on offense. The Panthers are averaging just 3.6 yards per rush as a team, leaving a heavy burden on senior quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pickett is one of the conference’s most-experienced signal callers, but he can be erratic with his accuracy and decision-making. Pickett and the offense need to get into a better rhythm before going up against the Hurricanes and Fighting Irish.

- Sam Cooper

The AP Top 25 may only get weirder

The AP poll is going to be odd on a weekly basis with teams playing differing numbers of games over the course of 2020. And it’s going to be really odd over the next few weeks until the Big Ten, Pac-12, Mountain West and Mid-American Conference get their seasons going.

Sunday’s AP poll was the first in-season poll that included Big Ten and Pac-12 teams after the conferences’ decisions to play later this season. The poll had four Big Ten teams among the Top 25 and one Pac-12 team — Oregon — in the rankings.

The five new teams that haven’t yet played a game had to kick some teams out. While teams like Army, Louisville and Kentucky lost on Saturday, Louisiana and Virginia Tech got kicked out of the poll despite winning.

Yeah, that seems unfair, but the Ragin’ Cajuns and Hokies may not have been ranked to begin with if every conference was currently playing football.

But we’ve got a few more weeks until that actually happens. By the time the Big Ten plays games on Oct. 24, No. 1 Clemson will have already played five times. When the Pac-12 starts playing on Nov. 6, Clemson will have completed seven games.

Where will Oregon be ranked at that point? Given the Ducks debuted at No. 14 in the rankings on Sunday, it’s not unreasonable at all to think that Oregon could move into the top 10 before it actually plays a game thanks to other teams’ losses. Should teams who haven’t started their seasons yet benefit from teams losing games? It’s something that AP voters now have to consider for the next month or so. We’re looking forward to seeing how their reasoning plays out.

- Nick Bromberg

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