At the midway point of the college football season, this seems to be the least predictable year in some time due to a lack of dominant teams at the upper tier of the rankings. And that’s just fine with me.
The bizarre ending to last weekend’s Michigan/Michigan State game was symbolic of the fun and beauty of a season that, at its halfway point, has been more bizarre, complicated and volatile than the impulsive and capricious ending of The Departed.
So, let me get this straight, Ole Miss beats Alabama on the road in September, proceeds to jump into the Top 5, and then Florida smokes them like Cheech and Chong, as does Memphis?
Stanford opens the year looking like Meek Mill after Drake was done blasting him out of Hip Hop relevancy with their 16-6 loss against Northwestern. They had more problems moving the ball against the Wildcats than Lieutenant Dan did in adjusting to civilian life with no legs.
But over the last month, the Cardinal have resurfaced as the premier challenge to Utah’s Pac-12 supremacy. And last Thursday night’s Old Man Otis-style 56-35 demolition of UCLA produced more “Oh my goodness!” moments than a heated confrontation between Sheneneh and Gina.
The interwebs went nuts over Cardinal receiver Francis Owusu’s catch of the year, as well they should. But watching Stanford’s sophomore tailback Christian McCaffrey eviscerate the Bruins defense was beyond incredible.
His 243 yards rushing on only 25 carries and four touchdowns, among them a 70-yard scamper out of the Wildcat formation, along with his 96-yard kickoff return and overall 369 total yards was among the best individual, all-around performances I’ve ever seen, right up there with Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders, West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, USC’s Reggie Bush, Florida’s Percy Harvin and Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas.
Oh, and McCaffrey didn’t play past the third quarter, yet he still broke Toby Gerhardt’s school individual game rushing record.
And if you were to tell me in August that at the mid-point juncture of the season that the Iowa Hawkeyes would have an outside shot at being included in the playoffs, and that the American Athletic Conference would have Memphis, Houston and Temple all undefeated and ranked in the Top 25, I would have told you that you were more dense then my man Ishmael in Kingpin.
But as I tried to warn you last week, Memphis is the real deal. Their 6’7” junior QB Paxton Lynch just might be the best signal caller that you’ve heard absolutely nothing about all year, up until now.
Tom Herman, in his first year coaching Houston after winning the national championship as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator last year, has things rolling with the Cougars, who have won their last four games by an average of 29 points.
Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa Hawkeyes looked like their surprising early-season success would be tested when star running back Jordan Canzeri injured his leg in the opening quarter against Northwestern last week. But backup tailback Akrum Wadley got busier than a horny rabbit, running for four touchdowns and 204 yards in Iowa’s 40-10 destruction of the Wildcats.
Speaking of surprise squads that remain undefeated, how ‘bout dem Cowboys? The one’s from Oklahoma State that is. We’ll see how good they are when they meet up with TCU on November 7th, and then Baylor and Oklahoma to close out the season.
Third-ranked Utah remains the biggest surprise thus far, but they’ll be tested against an unranked USC squad this weekend that already has three losses. But don’t let those losses and the drama that surrounded fired coach Steve Sarkisian fool you, the Trojans have enough talent to beat anyone in the country.
With their season in tatters, USC, who expected to be in the exalted position that the Utes now occupy midway through the year, will be playing this game as if it’s their national championship. If the Trojans can take advantage of their speed and play with a sense of urgency, things could get shaken and stirred in the Pac 12 this weekend.
The Florida/LSU game was pretty fun, especially since it was Leonard Fournette’s first matchup against an elite defense this year. The Tigers barely held on and needed a signature Les Miles trick play on a fake field goal to secure the 35-28 win. They don’t call the man the Mad Hatter for nothing.
Fournette victimized that rugged Gator defense, one that he termed “tremendous” and the toughest unit he’d faced thus far, for 195 total yards from scrimmage - the highest total that any player has accumulated against Florida this year - along with two touchdowns.
Fournette did what Fournette does, which is basically dominate the opposition like Norman Bates’ mother.
LSU proved that their offense is much more than Fournette and an offensive line that bullies defenses like the Cobra Kai Sensei. Sophomore QB Brandon Harris completed 13 of his 19 passes for 202 yards and two scores, one of which was an awesome scramble followed by a bullet to Malachi Dupre for a 50-yard-TD which put LSU ahead 28-14 shortly before halftime.
Florida’s sophomore QB Treon Harris, despite getting sacked five times, kept his squad in the game while subbing for the suspended Will Grier and throwing for 271 yards and two TD’s with no interceptions.
So at the midway point, what do we actually know? Well, like Michael Corleone told Senator Pat Geary, "Nothing!"
Let’s take a quick glance back to this time last season, when the eventual playoff participants were #2 Florida State, #13 Ohio State, #7 Alabama and #9 Oregon.
My point here is that, yeah, people can get all excited about the top four teams in the poll right now – defending champs Ohio State, Baylor, Utah and TCU – but just know that the likes of LSU, Clemson, Alabama, Michigan State, Florida State, Stanford, Notre Dame and some others will have something to say before it’s all said and done.
This weekend’s games to see include Utah/USC, Alabama/Tennessee, Texas Tech/Oklahoma, Clemson/Miami and Ole Miss/Texas A&M.
Any game that features Derrick Henry and Joshua Dobbs, as the Crimson Tide/Volunteers will, is worth the price of admission.
Clemson is undefeated and the ACC’s best team. If Miami can beat them, the folks who want Al Golden fired so they can land a coach like Chip Kelly or Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will be furious.
Texas Tech can score against anybody, while OU cornerback Zach Sanchez and linebacker Erik Striker are among the country’s best.
Mississippi’s passing attack is explosive and entertaining, while the Aggies’ pass defense, especially their pass rush, is a ferocious joy to behold. If Ole Miss can’t run the ball against Texas A&M, if their all-world defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche doesn’t return from a concussion and if the Rebels can’t contain the Aggies’ freshman sensation Christian Kirk, they’ll be in more trouble than Coolio’s hairline.
The best individual matchup of the weekend will be Ole Miss’ phenomenal offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil going against Texas A&M’s otherworldly defensive end Myles Garrett.
I’d also peep some of the Maryland/Penn State and Baylor/Iowa State games.
It’s hilarious to me how the Maryland fans are more delusional than Ron Burgundy in insisting that this is some sort of rivalry, but I’ll be watching to enjoy the work of the Nittany Lions’ outstanding defensive end Carl Nassib.
If you’re not watching Baylor, no matter how big of a crumb the 2-4 Cyclones may be, you’re missing out on perhaps the most electrifying pass catcher in all of college football in the Bears’ phenomenal Corey Coleman, who averages 142 yards receiving per game.
In only six games, Coleman has grabbed 16 TD’s, breaking Kendall Wright’s school record last week when he grabbed three against West Virginia in a marvelous ten-catch, 199-yard performance.
Baylor has not scored fewer than 56 points in a game all year and the momentum is heating up for a three-game stretch in a few weeks against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU that will determine whether or not they’re true national championship contenders.