Let me tell you how I enjoyed the wild college football weekend.
It has been years since I attended a wedding in the fall. This was, fortunately, more a matter of coincidence as most of my college friends are now married or chose a wedding date over the years that did not conflict with watching college football. But this past weekend, I hit the road for a trip down to Virginia and North Carolina to celebrate a cousin’s wedding, meaning my college football viewing experience was limited and a complete change of pace from what I am typically accustomed to. So let me take you through the weekend from my point of view in this non-traditional column.
I watched Clemson and Washington State lose from a hotel room
The weekend started with my wife and I meeting up at my parents’ house, where my dad was renting a vehicle for the road trip and we were carpooling. After taking roughly 45 minutes just to get a rental car for the trip down to Virginia, we proceeded to get caught in about as much traffic as you would expect thanks to a later-than-expected departure, road construction, and a tractor-trailer going off the road and taking out a tree along the side of the road somewhere in Delaware. So we got down to our hotel in Virginia a bit later than expected and we ended up having dinner at Denny’s. While sinking my teeth into the Moon Over My Hammy, I caught a glimpse of a TV at the counter where the Clemson-Syracuse game was airing.
I caught the game in the first half and saw Kelly Bryant being down on the field with an injury and Syracuse taking a 17-14 lead. After dinner, we called it a night and most of us called it a day. Not me, though. I had to see if Syracuse could pull this off. Sure enough, they did with a stunning 27-24 victory over the No. 2 Clemson Tigers, the defending national champions. Dino Babers has Syracuse improving this season, and this is a huge win for the continued progress of the Orange. Syracuse still has an uphill climb to the postseason, but this was a win Babers and Syracuse earned and will not take for granted.
As for Clemson, I will say the same thing I have said about Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Michigan, and now Washington and Washington State. There are a number of opportunities to bounce back and they are far from removed from the College Football Playoff discussion.
And yes, I did stay up to watch Washington State go down in blowout fashion against California. My parents were sound asleep in their room and my wife had long fallen asleep in our room. I was struggling, but I stuck with it long enough to watch a second top 10 team go down. I had a feeling this would happen. My first weekend off from covering college football was about to include a number of upsets that could change the outlook of conference races and the playoff picture. Sure enough, I couldn’t even make it to Saturday without a couple of noteworthy upsets.
I caught the end of Michigan-Indiana before moving on to the reception after party
My cousin actually already got married earlier in the year so we were just gathering for a delayed reception (it’s a Navy family, so schedules can be a bit different). That meant we had a noon reception followed by a gathering at my cousin’s house for a more casual get-together with S’mores around a campfire in the backyard. But first was a stop back to the hotel to change, and to watch Indiana tie up Michigan at the end of regulation only to stumble against the Wolverines in overtime.
This was a big win for Michigan as it keeps them from falling too far behind in the Big Ten East Division with a big game coming up this week at Penn State. A week after losing to Michigan State, Michigan needed a bit of a confidence boost for the second half of the season. Naturally, this keeps Michigan on the College Football Playoff radar for now.
This Michigan offense is still a major concern, but the defense remains a major asset. Indiana is now 0-3 in Big Ten play, but those losses have come against Ohio State, Penn State and now Michigan, and the Hoosiers still have to play Michigan State and Wisconsin. Still, a possible bowl berth is still within reach.
While Navy made a late run against Memphis, I was eating my second S’more
As I just mentioned, this is a strong Navy family, on both sides of the wedding party. So it was expected the Navy-Memphis game would be airing on TV in the living room. And it was. The Midshipmen dug a big hole in the second half against Memphis and it appeared the game was pretty much in hand for Memphis. I made my way outside to start enjoying some S’mores. While sitting around the campfire and roasting some marshmallows, it was later said Navy had come back to make it a game.
The win by Memphis puts the Tigers back in the mix for the Group of Five New Year’s Six running, especially since later that night we witnessed Boise State take down San Diego State to pretty much put the AAC in control of this conversation. Houston also lost on Saturday, which opens things up in the AAC West Division, and now Memphis has a head-to-head tiebreaker against Navy in their pocket.
What I particularly enjoyed about this game, however, was helping to explain the game and concept of college football vs. the NFL to a family member of the bride in for the wedding from England. He seemed to be bewildered at the idea the college players are not paid. Anyway…
I watched the end of the Red River Shootout on a phone
I said this is a huge Navy family. They are also a strong Texas family, so all eyes were also on the Red River Shootout (yeah, I’m calling it the Shootout) between Oklahoma and the Longhorns. I missed the majority of the game, but did notice that Oklahoma had to hold off Texas in the end. (I later caught myself up on the fact Texas had let a fourth-quarter lead slip away moments earlier.)
At some point while sitting by the fire and talking to some family, we were prompted to check the score of the game on our phone. Once I said Texas had the ball and was in a one-score game, my cousin took her phone out and loaded the live video feed of the game on her phone. Soon enough, four or five of us were huddled around my cousin and her phone watching the final moments of the Oklahoma win.
This was yet another encouraging sign for Texas under Tom Herman, similar to the loss at USC. Texas is clearly improving, but the Longhorns are not a program that looks for moral victories. Texas will get past that soon, but there is still some work to do to get there. Meanwhile, this is a nice win for the Sooners after a meltdown against Iowa State. Oklahoma stays in the Big 12 title hunt (they would have actually still been in it with a loss) and more importantly, they stay on the radar for the playoff.
Back to the hotel for USC-Utah, but tapping out on Pac-12 After Dark and a Mountain West upset
I typically have no problem staying up late on Saturdays to watch all the late-night west coast action, but it wasn’t happening this week. I needed to be well-rested for the drive home on Sunday, so I forced myself to tap out on Washington’s late-night stumble against Arizona State and skipped out entirely on San Diego State going down to Boise State. In my defense, though, my hotel didn’t get CBS Sports Network.
I did get to watch USC somehow get another close win as they continue to live life on the edge. I loved seeing Utah go for the win in the final minute with a two-point conversion attempt, rather than kick an extra point to take their chances in overtime. It was a gutsy move by Kyle Whittingham, and not one I will criticize him for. USC had taken control of the game in the second half and the Utes’ defense was showing signs of being gassed. Utah was not winning that game in overtime, so going for the win late in the game with a two-point attempt felt justified to me. It just didn’t work out and USC survives another close one to remain one of the weirdest 6-1 teams in the country.
I only watched a little bit of the Arizona State upset over Washington and apparently saw all I really needed to see as the Sun Devils played some outstanding defense to shutout the Huskies until the fourth quarter.
This Pac-12 situation has become fascinating. The Pac-12 is the first power conference to be without an undefeated team (ACC – Miami, Big 12 – TCU, Big Ten – Penn State, Wisconsin, SEC – Alabama, Georgia) and there are some one-loss teams that are guaranteed at least one more loss in the regular season with some tricky games left to play. That puts the Pac-12 on some very thin ice as it relates to the College Football Playoff.
Pac-12 has no undefeated teams. Take a look at some of the notable games still to be played: pic.twitter.com/B4RgUUDIgz
— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) October 16, 2017
As for the Mountain West Conference, leave it to Boise State to be the team to throw the Mountain West a screwball with a blowout win at San Diego State. The Aztecs, had they been undefeated, would have been the team to chase in the New Year’s Six race. The 31-14 loss at home puts the Aztecs, and the MWC) behind the AAC contenders right now, and there are a few of those contenders from the AAC (South Florida, UCF, Memphis, Navy, Houston).
If the College Football Playoff started today…
Because I was away and due to a technical issue with the voting system this week, I did not submit a ballot for the Super 16 from the FWAA and National Football Foundation this week. But here is how I would rank my top four and set my College Football Playoff field if I was setting it in stone today, based on everything observed to this point.
- Penn State
This playoff projection finally had a reason to be modified this week with Clemson losing to Syracuse. Looking forward, the possibility NC State wins the ACC Atlantic Division is starting to come into view, although I still want to think Clemson finds a way out of it until I know the extent of Kelly Bryant’s injury.
I’m also now in a position to think the Pac-12 is going to hurt its own chances by picking itself apart moving forward. Additionally, I think Georgia goes on the road to lose at Auburn before being taken down by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, thus removing the Bulldogs from the playoff picture. So, for now, I have a rematch and two teams from the same conference creeping in for some playoff chaos.
- Ohio State
- Penn State