This is why you shouldn’t read too much into week one poundings of mid-major programs:
Did you see what happened in Week 1? Games matching the Power 5 against the so-called “Group of 5” were about as competitive as insects against windshields. In 20 matchups on opening weekend, only three teams from the so-called “Group of Five” were able to win and just three others were competitive. The average scoring margin was 20.7 points — three touchdowns — and even teams that have been recent standard-bearers for small conference success such as Boise State, Rice and Utah State got stomped.
“That’s not a spot we’ve been in very often,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said Sunday night following a 38-7 loss at Tennessee that might have been the most revealing result of the weekend in terms of the gap that currently exists between the Power 5 and everyone else.
On paper, this was a classic opportunity for a program that plays in a 25,000-seat stadium and has to recruit two-star players almost exclusively to come into one of the sport’s historic venues and embarrass the crown jewel of an athletic department that spent $86 million more on sports than Utah State did last year.
Though nobody would have argued before the game that Utah State is more talented, Tennessee is in the midst of a rebuilding process as Butch Jones tries to clean up the mess from three disastrous years of Derek Dooley. With dynamic senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, whose national reputation had been formed in close losses to brand-name programs each of the last three years, it stood to reason that Utah State might be able to take advantage of a Tennessee roster with no proven quarterback and 21 true freshmen who will play some role this season. Even Las Vegas expected it to be close, with the point spread bet down to 4.5 points by kickoff.
But after the game was a few minutes old and the vast differences in size and speed became evident, it was obvious the Aggies would need to play virtually mistake-free just to have a chance going into the fourth quarter. They were overmatched even by a Tennessee team that will likely struggle to finish .500 this season…
All that doesn’t bode well for Vanderbilt, of course, but the bigger implication is that throwing the “Group of 5” a bone in the form of a spot in one of the major bowls is largely a waste from a competitive standpoint (although it’s really being done to send a little of the postseason revenue the mid-majors’ way). And don’t get me started on mandating a guaranteed mid-major berth in an expanded playoff.