College Football seized the national discussion this week, not because of Alabama’s domination of Leonard Fournette and LSU, or undefeated Oklahoma State’s surprising mauling of previously unbeaten TCU, but because of what the players at Missouri did in the face of the prevalent harassment, racial slurs and the disturbing incidents that continued to surface at an alarming rate this fall on their campus.
With tensions mounting and university system president Tim Wolfe unresponsive, along with seeming to be oblivious and insensitive to the escalating concerns of students of color, the Tigers used and harnessed their considerable power to bring about swift change.
The situation has been examined exhaustively, so there’s no need to reiterate what many others have already said. But I will add that Wolfe’s resignation is only the first step towards growth and healing from the ugly specter of America’s virulent, vituperative and deadly disease of racism.
More arrests, like the ones enacted yesterday on the cowardly individuals that made terroristic threats via social media, threatening to shoot and kill black students on campus and to harm individuals in the school’s Black Culture Center, need to be forthcoming. But on an even larger scale, the university must confront the toxicity that’s been building in the community for decades, acknowledge the school’s previous shortcomings and ambivalence, and make plans to enact sweeping institutional change and awareness.
The Tigers may not fully realize the forces they’ve set in motion, both in Columbia and around the country. But it’s very clear that when the cash cow’s workforce stands in solidarity and threatens to disrupt the economic engine, much like what the players at Oklahoma did this spring in the face of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon racism scandal, the response will be swift. It’s a lesson that every major Division I football and basketball player has digested.
Stay tuned to the ancillary effects at other schools around the country, because this lesson learned will be repeated in the future. Football does not exist without the players, who are now realizing the type of immense power that they truly yield when they stand in solidarity for a purpose outside of touchdowns and bowl games.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Last weekend lit the fuse that obliterated many assumptions that had been accepted as gospel. For this entire season, Leonard Fournette looked like the next coming of Marcus Dupree, Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson. But Alabama’s vicious defense slapped the brakes on that hyperbole for now, making some pro scouts wonder if Fournette might one day blossom into another Jim Brown, or perhaps the next incarnation of Tim Biakabatuka, Ki-Jana Carter or Trent Richardson.
My goodness gracious, the Crimson Tide singlehandedly opened up the Heisman race with its punishment of Fournette and head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin’s masterful use of their own stud running back Derrick Henry, who rebuked LSU’s defense like Jimmy Swaggart did Satan.
Henry’s 210 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries was the poster child for what power football looks like.
And speaking of Heisman candidacies taking hits, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin saw his stock fall while throwing four interceptions during Oklahoma State’s 49-29 drubbing of the Horned Frogs. So what previously looked like a two-man competition has now been thrust open for the likes of Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, Baylor’s Corey Coleman, Alabama’s Henry and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson to officially join the party.
Judging by the ease with which Oklahoma State’s defense pressured Boykin, the Cowboys’ final two games against Baylor and their hated rivals, the Oklahoma Sooners, both of which are at home, will provide more hotter escapism than Scarlett Johansson in Match Point.
Nebraska upended Michigan State’s playoff aspirations with their 39-38 victory over the Spartans. Navy did the same to Memphis in their surprising 45-20 victory, as the Tigers had more problems stopping the Midshipmen’s slick triple-option running attack than Dr. Ben Carson explaining his dishonesty about being admitted to West Point.
And how about a round of applause for USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has fallen out of the national discussion due to the Trojan’s struggles this year, but made his case for the Biletnikoff Award as the country’s top receiver amid the mounting drool bestowed upon Baylor’s Corey Coleman. Smith had surgery on his hand early last week, where a plate and a screw were inserted, and then proceeded to catch eight passes for 138 yards and a touchdown against Arizona.
Last year, Mississippi State’s phenomenal Dak Prescott was a media darling, national sensation and Heisman frontrunner. With all the talk this year about Trevone Boykin and Leonard Fournette, Prescott has faded into the background. But make sure to check him out when the Bulldogs take on Alabama this weekend. Prescott is actually playing better than he did last year, throwing 18 touchdown passes with only one interception while also leading the squad in rushing with 418 yards and seven more TD’s.
He has singlehandedly made Mississippi State nationally relevant over the last few years and is one of the most talented players that no one outside of Starkville, Mississippi is talking about.
The venerable Crimson Tide defense, after its demolition of Fournette last week, will try to do the same to Prescott this week. Dak will try to get the ball into the hands of one of the SEC’s best receivers, De’Runnya Wilson, who has been hotter than fish grease lately with six touchdown catches in his previous four games.
The other can’t-miss game of the weekend is the primetime shootout between the No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners and the No. 6 Baylor Bears. Oklahoma can still taste the harsh remains of their previous two games against Baylor. Last year, the Bears crushed them, 48-14, when the incomparable Corey Coleman caught 15 passes for 224 yards and a touchdown. The year before, the Sooners lost to the bears 41-12.
The Sooners have been on a roll, winning their last four games by a combined score of 232-50. Any questions about how true freshman QB Jarrett Stidham would look running the most explosive offense in the country were answered with his performance against Kansas State, where he passed for 419 yards and three touchdowns. With Oklahoma State and TCU following the Oklahoma game, Baylor will definitely earn a playoff bid if they win out.
Baylor’s offense is a wondrous force of nature. They average 357 yards passing and 309 yards rushing per game. The aerial attack garners all the headlines, but they run the rock well, led by the Big 12’s leading rusher, Shock Linwood.
This should be a fantastic matchup between a historically great offense and the Big 12’s top defense. Kansas State played Baylor down to the wire last week and proved that the Bears were not bulletproof. And have no doubt, Oklahoma, on both sides of the ball, has plenty of bullets.
The Sooners’ Baker Mayfield is one of the best quarterbacks in the country in terms of his feel for the game, passing efficiency and completion percentage, and for the game-within-the-game, pay special attention to OU’s offensive line and the holes they open for Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, considered by many to be the best running back duo in the land.
And when Baylor has the ball, keep your eyes on #19, Oklahoma's gifted predator, linebacker Erik Striker.
The best of the remaining games will be Oregon/Stanford, Memphis/Houston and Florida State/North Carolina State.
Ohio State, Notre Dame and Clemson should all have cakewalks this weekend. But as we’ve seen this entire year, you never know what each week will bring.
Enjoy the games.