Week one affirmations, revisions and rebuttals

What follows is one of my favorite columns of every college football season.

At a previous place of employment (I spent 13 seasons there), my centerpiece weekly column was called the Weekly Affirmation. The name wasn’t taken from Stuart Smalley of Saturday Night Live or from any (actual, not fictional) spiritual author or self-help guru. The idea of an affirmation flowed from the a larger tension point and a more specific way of confronting it.

The larger tension point is that this industry puts so much effort into predicting the season and its various outcomes before a single down has been played. Preseason this, preseason that. Preseason top 25. Preseason award watch list. Preseason conference rankings. The business of college football publishing (separate from the business of winning college football games for university administrators, coaches, and support staffs) depends on a lot of predictions, because people want to read picks (mostly so they can clip, copy and save when pundits are wrong, telling them how little they really know about football). As a result, the industry in many ways poisons the well for each season and its BCS (now College Football Playoff) rankings, because it makes people inclined to believe that certain conferences or teams are better than others.

I have always acknowledged that the industry in which I work demands preseason picks — I am not blind to that reality. However, having conceded that the industry operates in such a manner, I can say that I hate the practice and the inclination which feeds into it. College football, for far too long, has placed undue emphasis on rating teams and conferences before results play out. Whenever I can produce content which militates against this reality of the college football publishing industry, I’ll do it. That was the general basis for the Weekly Affirmation.

The specific concept articulated in the original Weekly Affirmation — created in 2002 — was that after the first week of a college football season, we finally had some real, live evidence on which to base claims about the quality of teams across the country. If I or anyone else in this busines had made a preseason pick, I wanted to view that pick through the lens of three different perspectives:

1) Affirmation — affirming the preseason pick based on what I saw in week one.

2) Revision — making the statement that based on week one, I felt it was necessary to change my view on the team in question, in either direction (optimism or pessimism).

3) Rebuttal — offering a contrarian reaction to majority opinion on a team after week one, or refusing to change my views on a team which performed contrary to my preseason expectations (or both).

That’s what I’ve always felt week-one-in-review columns should achieve.

So, with that prelude out of the way, let’s do some affirming, some revising, and some rebutting.



The main reaffirmation here: Auburn. Will Muschamp had his defense breathing fire in week one. Sure, Louisville can point to inconsistencies at quarterback (a lot of teams can, however), but this was beyond making a quarterback or set of quarterbacks feel uncomfortable. Auburn spent the better part of the first three quarters containing Louisville’s run game and blowing up plays at the point of attack.

The obvious point of concern is Jeremy Johnson, who made terrible mistakes in week one and must learn to properly evaluate what he sees on the field, especially relative to down-and-distance situations. Gus Malzahn has a lot of work to do with his signal caller, but if you trust Gus to bring Johnson around, the Tigers have the supporting cast on defense to make this season a success.

Other affirmations: Texas being mediocre at best; Penn State not making substantial improvements in season two under James Franklin; North Carolina failing to live up to its potential (if you continue to trust UNC under Larry Fedora with your preseason picks, you need help — go see a therapist); and Oklahoma State existing a cut below the cream of the crop in the Big 12.


The foremost revision I had to make in my thought process after week one: Texas A&M. I did not expect John Chavis to make this quick an impact on defense. It’s true that Arizona State needs to find a receiver who can replace Jaelen Strong — a man who did so much to anchor the Sun Devils’ offense the past few seasons — but ASU had an experienced, talented quarterback under center in Houston on Saturday, and A&M swallowed him up. It’s true that Arizona State simply doesn’t play well when traveling east and playing outside the Pacific or Mountain time zones, but A&M still made enormous progress on the defensive side of the ball. Kyler Murray is ridiculously fast and can be a tremendous change-of-pace weapon not only as a backup quarterback, but perhaps as a wide receiver with Kyle Allen taking snaps as the (No. 1) quarterback. A&M definitely changed my perceptions in week one.

Other revisions: Northwestern being better than expected — that was a defensive clinic against Stanford; Washington State not improving under Mike Leach — that has caught me off guard; Colorado not taking steps forward — extremely discouraging for that program; Bill Cubit making more of a (positive) difference at Illinois than I thought he’d make; and West Virginia tearing through Georgia Southern, contrary to the competitive game I thought I’d see there. That last game says more about West Virginia being underrated than Georgia Southern being flawed (though it is only week one; we’ll see if that revision holds up).


The rebuttal is the most complex reaction of the three. It is most centrally a reaction which says, “Oh, YOU might think this about a team after week one, but I’m going to pump the brakes on that reaction.” It is, in essence, a Lee Corso pencil-waving special: “Not so fast, my friend.”

The foremost rebuttal: You might think Arizona State isn’t very good, but I’m going to say that a revision of a formerly positive view of the Sun Devils is not (yet) warranted.

A lot of these affirmation-reivision-rebuttal decisions boil down to a central tension point: Are week-one games more a commentary on how good the winner is, or how bad the loser is? If you are more sold by the perhaps-unexpected excellence of the winner — as was the case for me with A&M — then you should be less concerned with the performance or appearance of the loser.

Hence, I’m not going to panic with Los Diablos Del Sol.

Arizona State is now 0-7 versus the SEC after losing to Texas A&M and seeing its offensive line get run out of the building by the speedy combination of Daeshon Hall and Myles Garrett. Those two are going to wreak havoc against many other slow offensive tackles. Arizona State is not going to be unique in that regard.

Unfamiliar building. Foreign time zone. A neutral-site game which was, for all intents and purposes, a road game. Arizona State did not play this game on its terms, a marked contrast to last November’s meeting with Notre Dame, when it faced an injured opponent in warm-weather conditions it knew how to handle.

Arizona State learned vital lessons about its team, and given the injuries suffered by Arizona (Scooby Wright) and UCLA (Eddie Vanderdoes) over the weekend, it’s not as though the Sun Devils’ chances of winning the Pac-12 South got worse. In some ways, they got better. This team can reset the dial and make the most of conference play.

Other rebuttals: Stanford isn’t going to be 7-5 again after 12 games (don’t jump off that bandwagon just yet — if USC boatraces the Cardinal, okay); Notre Dame is not going to be an amazing team (this was felt before the Tarean Folston injury, but now that Folston’s out, well, the equation does change for the Irish); Boise State’s offense is not going to be that bad in the coming weeks (the offense looked solid in the first half, and while the unit undeniably allowed itself to get rattled, Washington’s defense had a lot to do with that game flow on Friday night).

About Matt Zemek

Editor, @TrojansWire | CFB writer since 2001 |