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Each week, we’ll talk to our reporters on the ground to get their thoughts on the biggest happenings during the college football season. As Week 3 approaches so too do big stages for new coaches at both Kansas State and North Carolina. Meanwhile, Florida has a chance to prove its worth, while Florida State hopes to stop the bleeding.
RETURN OF THE MACK
People had plenty of jokes when North Carolina decided to tab 68-year-old Mack Brown to fill their head-coaching vacancy, but wins over South Carolina and Miami have muffled the laughs with aggression. The veteran head coach’s second tenure as a Tarheel is off to as promising a start as anyone could have imagined, as this weekend’s game with Wake Forest could give Brown three wins over FBS opponents in his first three games back in the Carolina Blue saddle.
“The fans believe in Mack because he’s done it there before and had the program in to top 10 for consecutive years, coming close to catching Florida State,” said Andrew Jones, who covers the program for Tarheelillustrated.com. “UNC has had a lot of solid teams over the last decade and hit the 11-win mark in 2015, but fans never completely bought in to Larry Fedora because they thought he was too gimmicky. They see Mack as a coach completely of substance who will win the right way. Through two games, it's clear the culture has totally changed.”
It’s early, sure, but Brown seems to be a few wins away from becoming one of college football’s biggest stories. Armed with true freshman quarterback Sam Howell, who the Tarheels stole away from Florida State late in the recruiting cycle, UNC has given its fans reason to believe in a somewhat unconventional coaching hire. A 3-0 start would only add to the snowballing momentum.
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TEST TIME FOR KLIEMAN
Kansas State didn’t exactly make a splash with its offseason coaching search. In fact, the school replaced the most successful coach in program history with a guy holding next to no FBS experience. So far so good for first-year coach Chris Klieman, however, as his Wildcats have outscored their first two opponents 101-14.
And while Bowling Green and Nicholls State aren’t exactly juggernauts, K-State has looked as dominant as anyone could have expected against them. Test time has arrived, however, as this week’s trip to Mississippi State will tell everyone plenty about Klieman’s team, which was picked to finish ninth in the Big 12 in the preseason media poll.
Whatever the results in Starkville, the new, youthful energy around the program Bill Snyder built is undeniable. This isn’t Snyder’s team anymore, though, and it’s starting to seem at least possible that’s not such a bad thing. Matt Hall, who covers the Wildcats at Kstateonline.com, says Klieman could well find himself in the postseason despite the preseason skepticism about the team’s 2019 outlook.
"I still think a successful season for Kansas State is finding six wins and making a bowl game, which suddenly feels a little more realistic after two season-opening blowouts,” Hall said. “No, the competition wasn’t strong, but the Wildcats have been dominant on defense and extremely efficient on offense. We should learn a lot this weekend at Mississippi State."
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TAKING THE TEMPERATURE IN TALLAHASSEE
Depending on who you ask, the aura surrounding the Florida State football team ranges from skepticism to full-on panic. The good news is that FSU’s upcoming ACC opener against Virginia has the potential to heal some of the wounds opened by last season’s 5-7 finish and this year’s rocky 1-1 start. The bad news, on the other hand, is the upcoming game could also push things in the other direction.
“They could've lost the game,” wrote Corey Clark in a Wartchant.com column following FSU’s narrow overtime win over Louisiana Monroe. “But how would that have really impacted your perception of this program right now? Having to go to overtime to beat Louisiana-Monroe, giving up more points to that offense than Grambling did, in front of what had to be the smallest crowd in Doak since the 1970s, feels like about as low as the Seminoles can go, doesn't it?”
Would a win over 2-0 Virginia erase all of the unrest in Tallahassee? Of course not, but it would certainly slow the march toward chaos. Head coach Willie Taggart’s job isn’t in jeopardy at this point in Year 2, but to say the groans aren’t getting louder is ignoring the obvious.
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HIGH STAKES FOR FLORIDA
When you consider the condition of the other two Sunshine State-based powers, things are relatively great at Florida. The Gators are 2-0, on more stable ground than Miami and Florida State and have their eyes set on the chance to play for an SEC title. Still, this weekend's SEC opener with Kentucky has a bit of a prove-it vibe to it.
Nobody in Dan Mullen’s locker room has forgotten last year’s 27-16 loss to the Wildcats, a game that ended a 31-game Kentucky losing streak in the series. So while the Wildcats will play without injured starting quarterback Terry Wilson, the chances of UF overlooking the task at hand are slim.
But this game is larger than some revenge narrative. It’s a measuring stick. Jacquie Franciulli, who covers the Gators for GatorsTerritory.com, doesn’t mince words on this game’s importance.
“I think this game is significant for Florida because I think it will answer more questions about the team: Like how far has this offensive line come? I don’t think the Gators losing last season makes this a more significant game. I think what gives this game more weight is simply the fact that it is the first SEC game.
“Let’s be honest, UF is playing catch up to Georgia, and if they lose against the Wildcats, they could already be facing an uphill battle.”
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