Across the football universe, announcers and analysts are scrambling to learn the proper pronunciation of his last name. They knew at some point this day would come. They just didn’t expect it to be so soon.
Say it with me … UIAGALELEI.
His first name is a touch easier: D.J. And he is the backup-turned-starting quarterback at Clemson due to Trevor Lawrence’s positive COVID-19 test. If you’re wondering how to say it yourself, Uiagalelei’s father, David, is here to help.
Lawrence will not play at Notre Dame this weekend, missing Clemson’s most important regular-season game of the year. Despite his absence, the Tigers are listed as 5.5-point favorites.
Losing a player at Lawrence’s level is a seismic loss, especially with an opponent of this caliber. But in this instance, the drop-off from the nation’s best football player to his replacement might not be as large as some believe.
Last year I visited Southern California to write a profile on Uiagalelei. At the time, he was one of the most coveted high school football players in the country. (Fun fact: He also pitched for his high school team, and his fastball touched 95 mph.)
A year later and Uiagalelei, a true freshman, is coming off his first start -- a come-from-behind-win over Boston College. In that game, he threw for 342 yards and scored three touchdowns.
He is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds. He might have the strongest arm in all of college football already, which is not hyperbole. He is inexperienced, of course, but he is the most capable, gifted backup in the country.
What does that mean against Notre Dame? The Irish have the nation’s No. 4 scoring defense. The schedule has been a tad light -- which might actually be a bit kind -- but the Irish are talented. Uiagalelei will need to play well for Clemson to stay unbeaten.
Regardless of what happens Saturday night, the name Uiagalelei will become a fixture of the sport. This seasoning, whether Clemson wins or not, will be vital in the years to come.
Depending on who declares for the draft, Uiagalelei could very well be the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy in 2021. He won’t be outside the top five.
That’s the kind of talent we’re talking about. That’s what Notre Dame is up against. Learn his name.
Midweek football and 9 a.m. kickoffs: The MAC and Pac-12 are back
It’s here, and it’ll be served in different forms, over different courses, starting this week.
It’ll start with the MAC, which is set to commandeer midweek football in a way it hasn’t before. With the NBA, MLB and NHL done for the time being, the MAC will provide a glorious outlet of betting options on Tuesday and Wednesday nights in the weeks to follow.
This has been a staple of #MACtion. But the pandemic will kick these options into overdrive, starting with six perfectly good football games to wager on Wednesday night.
The Pac-12 returns with a unique spin of its own -- a spin that gamblers should be aware of heading into Saturdays. Yes, 9 a.m. Pacific time kickoffs are finally a thing whether you want them or not.
That’s when USC and Arizona State will kick things off Saturday. The Trojans are 10.5-point favorites, and the total is listed at 58.5, an attainable figure when you consider the quarterbacks, Kedon Slovis and Jayden Daniels, who will go head to head.
Elsewhere, Oregon will welcome Stanford as a 10.5-point favorite. Cal, an up-and-coming program, will take on new-look Washington as a one-point favorite. (I like Cal.)
Given the Big 12’s struggles, making the College Football Playoff suddenly feels feasible for the Pac-12 despite its short season and continuous PR battles. Whether a team can be perfect over the next two months is another story entirely.
The Buffet: The five best games of the weekend
1. Clemson (-7, O/U 52) at Notre Dame: In the last two games, Clemson has been favored by a combined 74 points against Boston College and Syracuse. The Tigers struggled at times in both, especially early, before finding a rhythm in the second half. Still, they fell well short of covering. Notre Dame hasn’t exactly been dazzling against the spread either. The Irish are 1-3 ATS in the last four and historically have struggled in games of this magnitude. Since 1994, according to Brad Powers, Notre Dame is 4-40 overall and 11-32-1 ATS when playing teams that finished in the AP Top 10. Yikes. And while I tend not to overreact to certain historical “trends,” the picture has been pretty clear. Clemson has more talent and Travis Etienne, one of the most explosive players college football has seen in 10 years. And even though Clemson doesn’t have the best player in college football, Notre Dame might have its hands full.
2. Georgia (-3.5, 53.5) vs. Florida: This game formerly recognized as the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is ripe with intrigue even if there will be no party. For starters, Florida’s last few weeks included a COVID-19 outbreak and a massive brawl with Missouri, a brawl in which coach Dan Mullen was a central part and has been fined for. But the offense still has one of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Kyle Trask. At his disposal is wideout Kadarius Toney and tight end Kyle Pitts, two of the best playmakers in the country. Georgia, defensively, should be up for it despite some absences. The Bulldogs allowed 42 points to Alabama in their lone defeat. The other four games? A combined 40 points. Can Georgia keep up offensively? That is a major question. I’m feeling points here (aka the Over).
3. BYU (-3, 58.5) at Boise State: This game will be played on Friday night. It’ll start just before 10 p.m. Eastern time, which means you should caffeinate accordingly. It’ll be worth it, and there might not be a better game played on a Friday evening all year. Perhaps more interesting than the matchup is the line movement. Boise State opened Sunday as a two-point favorite. The line quickly moved five points in a few hours and has settled at a field goal. Since returning to action, Boise State is 2-0 straight up and against the spread. BYU, now a dark-horse playoff team, has covered the number in five of seven games. If you haven’t seen BYU quarterback Zach Wilson play yet, this is appointment viewing.
4. Michigan (-3.5, 51.5) at Indiana: At this point, it’s hard to rate Jim Harbaugh’s worst losses. The competition is fierce, and the list is expanding. Losing as a three-touchdown favorite to a rival that just lost to Rutgers, one of the conference’s bottom dwellers, has to be up there. And yet the Wolverines will be the chalk. Indiana has won and covered both games, but the Hoosiers are still home underdogs despite being ranked in the top 15. Before last week’s game, it felt right to finally feel confident in Michigan. The Wolverines responded with, well, you probably saw. That said, I’m tempted to do it again. Wolverines win. Wolverines cover. This column will self-destruct if these things don’t happen.
5. Oklahoma State (-12.5, 46.5) at Kansas State: A week ago, both Big 12 schools were thriving with just one loss between them. Then Oklahoma State fell in a thriller to Texas. Then Kansas State went to Morgantown and caught on fire, as things in Morgantown often do, against West Virginia. One thing is clear about this matchup: Bettors don’t expect to see an abundance of points. The total opened at 52.5 and has nearly come down a touchdown. There is offensive talent in this game, although it’s largely on Oklahoma State’s sideline. Chuba Hubbard at running back. Spencer Sanders at quarterback. Tylan Wallace at wide receiver. The Wildcats, after really struggling offensively last week, might struggle to keep up. They’ll have to channel their effort against Oklahoma from earlier this season. If not, Pokes might roll.
Last Call: Parting shots on other games of note
Texas (-6.5, 55.5) vs. West Virginia: The schools that handed out losses to the Big 12 teams mentioned previously will meet in Morgantown. Texas opened as a 10-point favorite, but the line was quickly bet down. What version of each team we’ll get, however, feels like a bit of a mystery. Your latest installment of “Is Texas Back?” should be fascinating. And if nothing else, the Longhorns know how to make it interesting.
Virginia Tech (-14.5, 67.5) vs. Liberty: Don’t look now, but Liberty is ranked and Hugh Freeze, despite the baggage and the history, is coaching his way back into a position to get another big job. Maybe not next year, though it won’t be long now. Enter Virginia Tech, coming off a nice victory against Louisville. The Hokies opened as 19-point favorites, though that line was quickly bet down. Fascinating game, and a Liberty win would send the Freeze chatter into overdrive.
Hawaii (-15.5, 62.5) vs. New Mexico: It’s not the best game. In fact, it’s not even one of the better games. But it’ll be played in Hawaii and kickoff is scheduled for 11 p.m. Eastern, allowing bettors an opportunity to invest long after most games have concluded. Hawaii returns home after a disappointing loss to Wyoming. New Mexico lost by 17 to San Jose State. The Rainbow Warriors could get right in a hurry. (Yes, I feel obligated to make a pick here. We all have to be involved. Football on the island is back.)