College Football Observations Week 0: Road to the Arizona Bowl is paved, Independents are a mess

The first week of the college football season kicked off this past weekend with a modest slate of games. 

Outside of the Big Ten showdown between Illinois and Nebraska — to which the lone takeaway is that fans can fell optimistic of the Bret Bielema era and feel justified in wanting Scott Frost fired — the rest of the games were mainly a feature of the Mountain West and newly independent.

The Arizona Bowl has been taken over by Barstool this year and is a matchup between the MWC and the MAC. San Jose State and Fresno State won by dominating fashion. While Hawaii, fresh off a bowl win in former Arizona State head coach Todd Graham’s first season at the helm, it was on the road against UCLA, whom under head coach Chip Kelly, should have an offense to make the Bruins competitive in the Pac-12. 

San Jose State previously won the MWC by running the table on its way to losing to Ball State in the Arizona Bowl last year. With quarterback Nick Starkel under center, the Spartans are primed to return to Tucson. 

Week 0 was a preview of the impending shootout between the Spartans and Bulldogs at the end of the season, with a trip to the MWC title game potentially on the line. Under senior quarterback Jake Haener, the Bulldogs dominated UConn 45-0 at home. While the Fresno State offense looked impressive, that was probably more of an indictment on UConn and the recent expansion of FBS independence. 

There was a time when Fresno State beating UConn would be considered an upset. After all, the Huskies used to be a Big East power and even made an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl. That was a decade ago and losing 45-0 is not only shocking but is a signal that the FBS level past them by and not even Randy Edsall, who coached the Huskies to the Fiesta Bowl in 2010, might be able to return them to glory. 

The last time UConn has reached a bowl game was in 2015 and the schedule now has them looking like a Group of Five program. Purdue is the only home matchup with a Power 5 program. Next year it’s Syracuse and Boston College. UConn football is a program without a conference ever since the famed basketball program returned to the Big East, a conference without football. 

Another example of the independent mess is New Mexico State, who lost 30-0 at home to UTEP. The Miners haven’t won a conference championship since 2000, nor have they won a bowl game since 1967, when the Sun Bowl was basically their bowl. The last time UTEP beat an FBS opponent by 30 was at Texas-San Antonio in 2014. 

To lose like that to that team, in a rivalry game no less, is a signal that for New Mexico State, the season is over before it began. Outside of winning the Arizona Bowl in 2017, their first bowl appearance since 1960, the Aggies have reverted to the sad program that they have always been. 

Despite being an independent, the Aggies have a largely Mountain West heavy schedule. Why the conference has not brought the Aggies along remains a mystery. 

In the FBS, independence is a purgatory. While Notre Dame, BYU and Army has bowl tie-ins, UConn, New Mexico State, UMass and Liberty don’t, and at this point, nor should they. 

About: Tony Capobianco

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Sports Kave senior writer and podcast host

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