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The Itis: CFF Treats - Observations from Week Zero
WRs Smoke Harris and Nick Nash steal the show, and the surprise standout duo out of Hawaii that you need to know going forward
I present to you "The Luther." A full-pound burger patty covered in cheese, grilled onion, five strips of bacon, all sandwiched between—Two Krispy Kreme doughnuts!
- Granddad, The Boondocks
Thank you for calling St-Hubert, how may I help you?
It’s week zero, Derek.
[Gasps] VP… Will it be the usual, with extra biscuits?
Affirmative. And Derek…
Make it extra-crispy today.
We’ve waited 229 long days for this, and it’s finally here.
To share in the joy of the season, please feel free to drop the name of the hot wings and/or pizza restaurant you ordered from Saturday in the comment section below.
For those unfamiliar with the term in the title, it is derived from one of my teenage favourites—Aaron McGruder’s hit tv show The Boondocks. One episode, ‘The Itis’, stands out to me as one of the best in the series. In it, one of the main characters, simply named ‘Granddad’, opens a new soul food restaurant designed to indulge its consumers’ worst culinary desires. He names the restaurant after (from what I can tell) a fictional word called The Itis, Granddad’s term for the sleepy feeling you get after a large meal.
In this new series, which I am also calling ‘The Itis’, I will be offering up some food for thought to the reader (pun intended), based on my observations of the games being played each week. You can think of this series as a mini round-up product of the weekly happenings in CFF. Unlike Granddad, hopefully my treats won’t put the readers to sleep after…
Now, without further ado, let’s jump into my CFF takeaways from Saturday’s action.
UTEP (14) vs. Jax State (17)
This was a fairly dull affair to kick things off for both programs. My interest in this game was primarily to see how the new FBS school—Jacksonville State, looked. Overall, I thought the Gamecocks showed themselves well, and my impression of the offence is that this is going to be a very run-heavy team. I didn’t really glean much meaningful information on the UTEP side, but a few names did stand out.
UTEP WR Kelly Akharaiyi emergence — The 6’1, 194 pound WR from Irving TX finished the game with four receptions (seven targets) for 102 yards and a score (20.2 FPs in 1-ppr). The 100 yards and score are good, but the most important metric to me is the target volume. Akharaiyi was targeted consistently throughout the game by QB Hardison, suggesting he might be part of a 1-2 punch with Tyrin Smith, making him a promising player going forward. If you recall, UTEP had Reynaldo Flores last season, who, with Smith, formed a solid WR duo in CFF.
UTEP WR Tyrin Smith still a volume pig — Speaking of, I was pleased with what I saw regarding Tyrin Smith. You’re probably reading that and thinking “huh?”. In CFF, each year an overwhelming percentage of the players we’re interested in are projection players. That is, we’re drafting and acquiring said players based on what we think they will do going forward rather than what they’ve done. There is a small percentage in there who already performed to the level we want, and return with a very similar, or in some cases, exact same set up as the year prior. Tyrin Smith fits into the latter group (over 19 FPG last season with the same QB, OC and HC returning, no major additions in the WR room who weren’t already there). Thus, there aren’t the same question marks regarding Smith as we would have with others. The only box he had to check, he checked—seven targets is inline with the target volume you want to see. The yardage and TD production wasn’t there, but that’s how it goes sometimes. All we can do is follow the volume—the players with the ball in their hands are going to be the ones accumulating yards and TDs more often than not. I had Tyrin in many of my leagues last year so I feel that I am somewhat of an authority on this as I watched a lot of UTEP football, there were many times where it was ROUGH throughout the games for his CFF output (UTEP could write a masterclass on how to go three-and-out…), just for him to accumulate 5+ targets in the fourth quarter and salvage the day. This is that type of team, it’ll be ugly until it’s not during the games, and you’ve just got to ride the wave.
UTEP backfield looks split — While Deion Hankins led the backfield early on, and finished with a solid 15 carries for 54 yards and a score, Torrance Burgess Jr. also looks to be heavily involved finishing with 12 carries for 58 yards. Notably, QB Gavin Hardison also ran it eight times. JuCo transfer RB Mike Franklin looked to struggle vs. JSU, only rushing for 28 yards on eight carries (3.5 ypc).
Jax State is incredibly run heavy, but looks to be spreading the love — Not only is the QB—Zion Webb, a running threat, but the Gamecocks had two separate runners carry the rock 13 times each. ULM transfer Malik Jackson took 13 carries for 76 yards and a score, and Ron Wiggins took his 13 carries for 63 yards and a score. Notably, Wiggins also led the team in receiving with two catches for 24(!) yards. As you can see, this doesn’t look like a team where the WRs are going to be all that relevant, at least it didn’t look that way in game zero. Of note, RB Anwar Lewis missed this game due to injury. He was listed as a co-starter earlier this August with Jackson. He will likely be getting 10+ carries a game too on his return.
Ohio (13) vs. SDSU (20)
This one was unfortunate because Ohio QB Kurtis Rourke went down with injury after attempting just 10 passes. I don’t know what exactly the injury is, but I’ve heard it is a lower body ailment. Despite that, I’d say Ohio’s main pass catchers in this game still did well. SDSU had a surprise name pop up also.
Ohio QB Kurtis Rourke injury — Rourke being injured undoubtedly changed the complexion of this game. CJ Harris performed admirably, but he is not the same caliber of passer as Rourke. Notably, however, Harris still locked in on his main target man at WR (more on this later).
Ohio RB Sieh Bangura still alpha of the room — Bangura returns as an established player this season, which made him a value in CFF. My main question regarding this backfield was the extent of O’Shawn Allison’s role upon his return from injury. Allison missed all of last season with a torn ACL, so I wondered if the Bobcats’ staff would split carries more evenly now. That was not the case, and Bangura, like Tyrin Smith, saw the volume you’d expect (17 total touches). The yardage and scores weren’t there (although he still finished with 10.5 FPs), but again, that’s just how it goes sometimes. I think if Rourke stays in the game, the scoring opportunities would have been there.
Ohio WR Sam Wiglusz is still the main target man — Although expected Ohio WR2 Jacoby Jones was out this game, it was still encouraging to see the Wig-man — despite the change at QB — see 15(!) targets. He ended up catching 10 of those for over 100 yards. It felt like he was flirting with the end zone all game, but just couldn’t cash in. He looks to be a player that is going to be highly productive this season, once again.
SDSU QB Jalen Mayden looked OK — I thought Mayden did a decent job in this game. Like SDSU, Ohio also has a good front seven, and I thought Mayden did a pretty good job passing the ball (17/27 with two TDs). I expected more output along the ground (he only had 24 yards rushing), but again Ohio is also a pretty good team.
SDSU backfield is disappointing — Keenan Christon led things early on, and finished with a cool 4.1 ypc on 11 carries. However, overall, this looks to be a complete committee approach.
Who is SDSU TE Mark Redman? — Redman secured five catches on six targets (four of those targets coming in the end zone) for 62 yards and two scores (23.2 FPs). It’s most notable that he was targeted so much in the end zone itself; and this could potentially be a surprise high volume player at TE. Redman began his career at Washington in 2020, but transferred to SDSU in 2021. Last year was his first full season playing CFB, and he finished averaging 4.3 FPG over 13 games. He had some high target volume games last year too—seven vs. Toledo and UNLV, and six vs. New Mexico and Air Force, so I’m not ready to jump all in just yet.
Hawaii (28) vs. Vandy (35)
I thought this game would be competitive, but I didn’t expect it to be this competitive. I guess there’s two ways we could go in the absence of other data points: 1) maybe Hawaii is a much improved team or 2) Vandy is not very good, even for their standards. I’d lean more towards the latter, and more specifically I’d say from watching snippets of this game I thought Vandy’s OLine looked problematic. The lack of push generated for the run game vs. a team like Hawaii is not a good sign for when they get into SEC play. Despite that, however, I was pleased with the pass game usage and efficiency. On the Hawaii side, there were disappointments, but also pleasant surprises.
Vandy WR Will Sheppard looked good — Sheppard was targeted eight times, and caught six of those for 68 yards and two scores. Again, this target volume is inline with what we wanted to see. Sheppard is a returning player who was already a CFF asset last season, so I didn’t have a lot of question marks regarding his role. I wrote about Sheppard earlier this offseason here.
Vandy WR Jayden McGowan also looked good — Coincidently, JMac was also targeted eight times, of which he caught six for 72 yards. While he failed to reach the end zone, I was pleased to see that he was also getting rushing usage — two carries for 11 yards. That means he actually paced the team in total touch volume at the WR position, if he’s going to continue to be used like that, he will be a value in CFF going forward. I don’t want to overreact off of one game, however.
Vandy QB AJ Swann looked good — The main question mark I had regarding Vandy was actually the QB play. Last year Swann, as a true freshman, was thrust into action midway through the season. That’s not an ideal way to start your career, so I expected that with a full offseason under his belt, that he’d be better this season. Week Zero didn’t dissuade me from that notion, as Swann completed 19 of 30 passes for 258 yards and three scores. The main caveat being — of course — that this was vs. Hawaii. Let’s see how things go going forward.
Hawaii WRs impressed — UH’s Steven McBride and Pofele Ashlock both did major damage in this game. McBride was targeted a cool 10 times, of which he caught seven for 98 yards and two scores (28.8). His teammate—Ashlock, was targeted nine times, of which he caught seven for 127 and a score (25.7). It’s encouraging that UH managed to do this vs. Vandy, which presumably will be one of the better teams it plays all season. The usage for those two WRs is phenomenal, so if that continues both of these players are guys I’d target, if available, via the waiver wire in your league.
Hawaii RB Tylan Hines on a milk carton — Welp, there’s no other way to put it, that first performance was not good. Hines only received nine carries, of which he ran for a shocking 15 yards (1.7 ypc). Even more disappointing, however, was that he was only targeted once all game. Bizarre usage given what we had been hearing this offseason. Without any further details, I can only speculate on the matter. Perhaps he was dealing with an unknown injury or ailment of some sort, I don’t know… but this was not a good showing in terms of what his role is in the offence. I wouldn't cut him yet if you picked him up, but I’d watch his usage closely. Next week will be a tough barometer, as Hawaii plays Stanford.
USC (56) vs. SJSU (28)
Kudos to SJSU for hanging in there with USC for as long as they did. I’ve got to say, I was surprised to see Caleb Williams in the game as long as he was. I thought this would be a game where the Trojans attempted to execute the kill shot as soon as possible—and maybe they did attempt to, but that’s not how this game went. Regarding USC, it was more of the same, I’d say, as the offence looked explosive, and the defence looked lackadaisical. A few big names emerged in this one, however, which you’ll want to familiarize yourself with.
USC true freshman Zachariah Branch looks special — We’ll get the most obvious one out of the way right off the bat. Branch looks special. He looked different in high school from all the other five star WRs, and I have to say he still looks different gliding around the field amongst college athletes. He was explosive in the return game, as well as a receiver. I mean, when the commentators are evoking the name Reggie Bush as a comparison… yea, you’re having a good night. The problem as it relates to Branch’s CFF profile for 2023, which I’ll go into more detail in a minute, is that this room is very crowded.
USC spreads the love at every position — The offence overall was great, but — as I had thought might be the case — did spread the love around a lot at both WR and RB. No WR had more than four catches, and no RB had more than nine carries. Four different WRs caught TD passes. Again, this is just one game, and so there’s no need to overreact to the stat lines. However, my take on USC’s WRs was documented here earlier this offseason, and my main takeaway was that I am avoiding them in standard leagues, but that they each present value in a bestball format. Week Zero did not dissuade me from that notion.
USC using committee at RB — This is not surprising, given that they have two established RBs in Austin Jones and Marshawn Lloyd. Freshman Quinten Joyner was also involved with five carries to Jones’ six and Lloyd’s nine. Riley has used two-RB committees in the past, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the split we saw vs. SJSU continued all season. Notably — at least in this contest — Jones seemed to be the one who got the red zone touches (finished with two scores, no other RB scored).
SJSU WR Nick Nash looked strong in Lockhart’s absence — The converted QB turned WR Nash had a phenomenal day as he was targeted eight times, catching six of those for 89 yards and three scores (32.9 FPs). I believe he finished as the top scoring WR on the slate for Week Zero, so that was an impressive performance to say the least. What I like is that he clearly had a strong rapport with QB Chevan Cordeiro, being targeted eight times. Of course, this was in the absence of WR Justin Lockhart, so we’ll have to wait and see how the splits look when the room is at its full potential.
SJSU QB Chevan Cordeiro looked the part — I was pleased with what I saw from Cordeiro and I think he’s in for a big season. I wrote about him this offseason here.
Notre Dame (42) vs. Navy (3)
This one was a bloodbath from the start and so it’s harder to get an accurate read on the splits of the various position groups. Overall, I’d say the players we thought were good for ND all scored. QB Sam Hartman couldn’t look any better in his debut either.
ND QB Sam Hartman torched his debut — You couldn’t ask for a better start out of Hartman if you’re a shareholder of his. He finished the day with four TDs passing in a game where ND took its foot off the accelerator in the second half. He was not used at all in the ground game, but I expect that that is due to the fact that ND had the luxury to be cautious with him in this one.
ND WRs Jaden Greathouse and Jayden Thomas look promising as CFF assets — I wrote about true freshman Greathouse earlier this offseason, and it seems — despite the fact that he was listed as a second stringer — that he is going to be playing a lot this season. While the TD production was good (he scored twice) the overall target volume was not (only three targets). Two scores on three catches is not sustainable over the long term, but it is encouraging to see him already in the mix and executing when given the opportunities. His teammate—Jayden Thomas, also looked very strong. Thomas caught four passes on four targets for 63 yards and a score. Again, the target volume doesn’t blow me away, but as this game was a blowout from basically the first quarter, it’s tough to say what the passing distribution will look like when ND is in more competitive games.
ND RB Audric Estime’s backfield to lose — I mentioned with Tyrin Smith that there are two groups of fantasy assets we are typically interested in—those that are projection plays, and those that are established returners. Estime fits into the former group, so I had a lot of questions about his usage and what the splits would look like. I’d say Estime’s usage answered the call, he finished the game with a total of 18 touches (not bad for a blowout…), and the next leading rusher only had six carries. If you’re a Estime shareholder, you’ve got to be encouraged by that split. As it happens, I highlighted Estime this offseason here.
LTech (22) vs. FIU (17)
This one was on later in the evening so many (including myself) were likely a bit fatigued at that point of football watching. There weren’t many notable takeaways for me in this game, but there was one name that exceeded my expectations.
LTech’s WR Smoke Harris looked the part — That name, is Smoke Harris. I wrote about Harris this offseason as a player to target in the later rounds of drafts, but I’d be lying if I said I expected him to start the season like this. Harris’ debut was about as good as you could reasonably ask for in a game where LTech only scored 22 points. Harris, who is entering 2023 coming off back-to-back 100+ target seasons, was targeted in this game 11 times, of which he caught 11 of those for 155 yards and a score (31.7 FPs). Notably, he also received three carries in this game. He ended up rushing for negative yardage, but the fact that he finished with 14 total touches is extremely promising. Harris has been around LTech for quite some time now (this is his sixth season), and while he’s been solid in the past, if this game is any indication on his role going forward, he could be in for a nuclear season in 2023. I have my concerns on how far QB Hank Bachmeier can take him, but it was encouraging to see Harris clearly establish himself in this game as WR1 while Cyrus Allen looked to be WR2. Again, it’s only one game, so it’s too soon to make any definitive statements.
FIU RB Shomari Lawrence on watch — While LTech’s bellcow was out this game, FIU leaned on one of its players in Lawrence, who was a transfer in the offseason from South Dakota State. Lawrence received 15 carries, while the next RB got five. Notably, however, is that the QB Grayson James also rushed nine times, and figures to be doing a lot of rushing going forward. The FIU offence overall disappointed, but I’d say Lawrence, who rushed for 139 yards and a score (20.9 FPs) stood out as a bright spot.
Final Thought — Mismanagement of CFB for the Sake of Money
I won’t get too preachy here, but I think objectively there are structural changes that are being made at the top that are making this game worse. An obvious example was on display this weekend with the new clock rules (clock no longer stops after 1st downs) for the sake of ‘shortening the tv runtime’. Thats’s funny, given that it already feels at times like we’re watching advertising with some football sprinkled in. The answer to shortening runtime on TV is obvious and simple, but we know the powers at be won’t go down that route. All in all, what was the result of this rule change? About 3 mins of difference in runtime… yea…
I think CFB is the greatest sport on earth to be a fan of. But I also can’t help but look at the massive changes over the past two years (e.g., realignment), and think that this product is going to suffer in some way in the future. NFL-light is not the way that CFB wants to go, in my humble opinion, but it appears that those who are pulling the strings think otherwise.
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