Mid-season wackiness defines college football

Gordon P Smith Roar Guru

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    One of the things that makes American college football so addicting is that wealth of options and opportunities for great games, great stories and surprising outcomes.

    For every 41-9 Alabama beat-down of Arkansas and every 59-16 Oklahoma thrashing of a pathetic and winless Baylor club, there were great stories in what had looked like a low-key weekend.

    Defending national champion Clemson was a 22-point favourite at Syracuse on Friday night, a foe they defeated 54-0 last season. So, of course, the ‘Cuse beat the 6-0 Tigers 27-24 in a game where every bounce seemed to go the Orangemen’s way.

    But the silver lining for Clemson was the chance for Dabo Swinney, one of the classiest coaches in existence, to prove it again by going unbidden into the Syracuse locker room to congratulate the SU players first hand after the game.

    Next up on Friday’s doubleheader, in the smoke and haze from the massive wildfires north of the San Francisco Bay area that has killed dozens already, Cal-Berkeley drubbed #8 Washington State. It was this kind of game: WSU quarterback Luke Falk had thrown two interceptions in the entire first half of the season.

    He threw five Friday night.

    Here’s another example of the football gods working in Cal’s favour: Cal QB Ross Bowers was hit at the 2-yard line while trying to score the final touchdown of the game; instead of going to the ground, the tackle flipped him into a vertical 360 and he landed on his feet in the end zone to make the final score 37-3.

    Sydney Cup college football NFL

    (Photo: Jack Prichard)

    Their mates across the state, the University of Washington, somehow managed only one garbage-time score against an Arizona State defence which had allowed 30 points or more to every other opponent this year. Just when UW must’ve thought its path to a Pac-12 title and a CFP berth were paved by the two Friday night losses, they tossed a loss of their own that arguably was worse than either of those.

    Chris Petersen is my all-time favourite coaches, having spent fifteen years in Boise where I lived, but even he serves up a stinker once in a (long) while.

    Along those same lines, Louisville has the once-in-a-generation talent Lamar Jackson at QB… and not much on defence, apparently, because Boston College managed to put 45 points on the board against the #17 team in the country Saturday after failing to break thirty against anyone else this year.

    Florida State at least has an excuse – their top QB went out for the season in their first game – but considering they were not only ACC favourites but expected to make the four-team national finals, it’s strange to realise that not only are they just 2-3, but those two W’s each required them to knock down last-play passes in the end zone to secure the victories over traditional lightweights Duke and Wake Forest.

    The ACC is so upside down that the best record in the conference is the consensus mid-pack Wolfpack of North Carolina State at 4-0. The two other undefeated schools are Miami (which had major luck on its side for the last two wins) and 2017 pre-season consensus conference wooden spoon winners Virginia.

    It was a great month for wildlife in football. A jackrabbit (not a South Dakota State football player, the real animal) ran onto and across the Stanford University field Saturday night and scored three touchdowns before it was (humanely) corralled by players on the Oregon Duck bench.

    The graphics people on the broadcast noted that the rabbit outgained star Cardinal running back Bryce Love on the night, and scored more touchdowns that Oregon would score all game. Personally, my favourite touch was that Stanford’s home cheer crew set off the “touchdown cannon” after the jackrabbit scored its final touchdown – and to the rabbit’s credit, it didn’t spook because of it.

    If it hadn’t spooked in a stadium of seventy thousand fans, I suppose the cannon wouldn’t do it, either! This follows Louisville’s victory over Kent State a couple of weeks ago, which was highlighted by the length-of-the-field touchdown run by a tree squirrel, who sprawled out in the end zone afterwards, huffing and puffing from exhaustion, cheered by the entire crowd.

    Which followed Baylor’s hosting of a few foxes, native to their west Texas locale, both on the field and in the stands. There’s a joke there about it being safe for the foxes to congregate in Baylor’s end zone because they weren’t using it, but let’s move on.

    Such is life in the shadow of Alabama in the SEC that LSU and Texas A&M are both 5-2 – and their fans are both hosting GoFundMe pages to pay for the buyouts of their “failing coach” contracts. So what hope do Bret Bielema at Arkansas or Butch Jones at Tennessee have, both 0-3 in the conference already?

    I wonder if consensus pre-season Group of Five favourite South Florida thought their chief competition for a New Year’s Six bowl game wouldn’t come from San Diego or Boise, a directional Michigan school, a city in Ohio or even the American West division’s triumvirate of traditional strength in Houston, Navy, or Memphis.

    Instead, it comes from within its own division, even its own state: recruiting rival Central Florida is also undefeated and awaiting the Bulls in Week 12 for what’s looking more and more like a winner-take-all game for the East title, the AAC title and a New Year’s Six bowl berth.

    Two years ago, UCF was 0-12. I didn’t expect to see them here so soon!

    I didn’t expect that the Big 12 would have TCU on top at 6-0 above the two Oklahoma powers, who both have a loss, and rival Baylor at the bottom at 0-6.

    They even sit below even Kansas, who won in week one against an FCS team. You scoff, but Baylor lost to their FCS opponent!

    I didn’t expect that the two most famous football programs north of the Mason-Dixon Line (look it up!), Michigan and Ohio State, would each earn their 500th conference victory on the same day! Michigan’s was a nail-biter at Indiana that they won in overtime, and Ohio State pummeled Nebraska 56-14, badly enough that Big Red then fired their athletic director.

    I didn’t expect traditional and now-independent powerhouse Brigham Young (BYU) to have an offence so bad that I feel the need to check their calendars to see if they’re all on a day off.

    See, 1-6 BYU is an LDS-religious institution which famously refuses to play games on Sunday, and they’ve only scored nine touchdowns all season, playing most games on Saturdays, and… you know, jokes that have to be explained are just not worth it.

    I didn’t expect Alabama-Birmingham’s first year back on the field, after a two-year enforced exile imposed by the state’s Board of Education, to be so successful!

    former Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb

    (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

    At 4-2, including 2-1 in Conference USA’s wildly exotic West Division, where North Texas (of all teams) sits at 3-0 on the top rung of the ladder after a 67-second, 98-yard drive with no timeouts to finish off an upset of favoured UT-San Antonio Saturday, 29-26.

    I didn’t expect Kennesaw State, in just its third year of playing football to have waxed Liberty (the only FCS team to beat a Power 5 school this season) 42-28 to go to 5-1 on the season and sit atop the Big South conference.

    And I really didn’t expect the other 5-1 team there to be Monmouth, which entered the season on a five-game losing streak!

    Speaking of surging FCS teams in 2017 which were steaming piles in the past, how about Elon (on a five-game winning streak after ending 2016 on a seven-game losing streak!), or Central Connecticut State (riding a four-game winning streak after winning just two all of last year!).

    There’s also Campbell (currently 4-0 in the Pioneer League; the Camels haven’t won four league games in any season since 2011!) and our oft-praised Austin Peay (which has followed its legendary 29-game losing streak by winning four of the last five, the only loss coming at top ten Jacksonville State).

    And while I didn’t expect it, I’m more than pleased to see the Ivy League doormat Colombia Lions start the season 5-0 heading into a showdown for first place in the league at Dartmouth on Saturday (a match-up of the only two remaining 2-0 teams in the league).

    Colombia’s five wins matches their total over the last four seasons when they went 5-35 (including a 24-game losing streak, not to mention their famous 44-game streak back a couple of decades). The Lions last won an Ivy title in 1961, and since then have had just three winning seasons in the intervening 55 years, none in this century.

    The difference? Pennsylvania’s former coach, Al Bagnoli, who retired from coaching in the winter of 2015, decided three months later he missed it – only to realise Penn had already hired his replacement, so he applied and got Colombia’s job. Colombia defeated Penn last week 34-31 in overtime, by the way.

    After three wins last year, he’s apparently changed the culture sufficiently to make Lions football fashionable aga- no, not again. For the first time! Good luck Saturday, Colombia!

    Here’s some of what I do expect in 20 of the most notable of the 113 Division I college football games across the U.S. in Week 8:

    Florida State at home by 7 to 11 points over Louisville.

    Penn State by 10-11 at home over Michigan.

    Oklahoma State should beat Texas on the road by about what OU did: five to seven points.

    Notre Dame will hold its three-point home field advantage over similarly skilled Southern Cal.

    We predict Memphis at Houston to be a toss-up. The winner has a leg up in the AAC West, alongside Navy.

    We also see surprising Florida Atlantic staying unbeaten with a four to eight-point win over 3-0 North Texas in Conference USA.

    Akron will suffer its first MAC loss at Toledo, who’s also unbeaten in conference, by 12-15 points.

    Boise State and San Diego State will further define the Mountain West division races, focusing towards a rematch of Saturday’s 31-14 Bronco victory, by defeating their main division rivals, Wyoming and Fresno State respectively, by one to two touchdowns apiece at home.

    American Football players line up Canadian football. CFL. Image: Wikicommons generic

    Image: Wikicommons

    Troy should knock off upstart Georgia State from the top of the Sun Belt ladder by 6 to 9 points.

    Two big Missouri Valley games should go to form: North Dakota State should hand Western Illinois its second loss by 15, and South Dakota will do the same to Illinois State by four.

    Duquesne hosts St. Francis, in a battle of the two most recent Northeast Conference champions, and the winner moves to 3-0 in conference. We like the Dukes by 11 at home.

    The two Ohio Valley battles read like a boxing ticket: On the undercard, in the red corner, 3-1 Austin Peay is a two-point favourite over visiting 2-1 SE Missouri State. And in the main event, 3-0 defending belt holder Jacksonville State goes to 4-0 Eastern Illinois, where we expect the reigning champs to go home with a 13-point victory on all cards!

    Two teams looking to win another Pioneer Football League title: Jacksonville goes across the nation to play at San Diego (note the lack of “State” on both names – these are the “little brothers” on the football scene, just as the PFL is as a whole), and is a 12-point underdog.

    Two potentially great games include four of the top five teams in the Southern Conference: Samford at Wofford (bet the home team by one to remain unbeaten on the season) and Mercer at Furman (we like this home team by two).

    We mentioned the Colombia at Dartmouth showdown in the Ivy League (we see the home Green winning by five), but on Friday night, three-point favourite Harvard hosts Princeton for a chance for the winner to be 2-1 in conference and stay within striking distance.

    Finally, Grambling State (3-0 in the SWAC West) hosts Alcorn State (4-0 in the SWAC East) in what seems very likely to be the first of two meetings this season, the second to come in the SWAC title game in December.

    That will decide the conference’s representative in the Celebration Bowl, likely against North Carolina A&T who is mowing down all comers at 7-0 in the MEAC, to determine the HBC (Historically Black College) national champions! By the way, we like Grambling by 11.

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